Let’s take it back four years. I’m seventeen, and I’ve just gotten accepted to the universities I applied to. I’m over the damn moon—and then the question is asked. The question almost every student in an arts or another creative program is asked when they reveal their degree; “What are you going to be able to do with that?”
I am graduating this year with a BA in History. I get asked by family, my parents asked by friends, what the hell that degree will do for me after school? It’s a valid question; I wasn’t entirely sure myself, but I knew it was something I was passionate about. I was told the only jobs I’d be able to get were teaching positions or jobs in museums. Jump forward four years, and I’ve just applied to several government agencies and companies as an analyst, something I’m fully qualified for thanks to my education.
I can understand why people can look down on arts degrees. When you go into science, engineering, social work, nursing, journalism, etc. there is usually a clear target to reach. Sure, you’ll be asked what you can do with the degree, but for these students, it is usually more the question of what you want to do with that degree. Arts students will be asked why not engineering, science, medicine, fields that will give you guaranteed jobs (which is totally false, by the way; no jobs these days are guaranteed). Arts are seen as easy, something a student can breeze through. Starting to see the difference? No, I do not entirely know what will happen to me once I’ve finished my undergrad. No one does. But here are a few things to consider if you ever believe these degrees to be easy or useless.
Film majors and photographers spend years on their work, thousands of dollars on equipment, learning everything they can about the visual craft. This is where Steven Spielberg learned to form his craft, where he was able to make the connections and the films that landed him the unpaid internship with Universal Studios that marked a massive stepping stone in his career. Film students learn to spend hours outside no matter the weather, holding heavy equipment and working over twelve hours in a day. Photographers bring us pictures from the front lines of war, cities being sieged, to show the world what is happening. It is through filmmakers and photographers that audiences are able to view people and places they may not have been able to see otherwise. These artists can transport you to another world in an instant and have you lost in it.
English majors spend hundreds, thousands of hours working on their craft. Bent over a keyboard, a book, a notebook, writing until their fingers ache. Breaking down old worlds and building new ones with the rubble as their foundation. Think of that movie series you love, the TV show you always watch on Netflix. How do you think those were created? Those books you love, spines bent and creased, who do you think wrote those? Editors, publishers, every step of creating a story needs expertise that is gained through the years that English students put in.
And then there are the people like me, the History majors. We are similar to the English kids, but our program wholly focuses on non-fiction and material culture. I’ve been told that people think history is a hard subject to study because of names and dates, but it is so much more than that. We are taught to ignore our biases in order to see situations as they truly are. We are taught how to interpret events in order to understand them and why they happened. Hours are spent on research, digging through articles and books, archives of battered, handwritten documents. We are trained to analyze, to write, to learn the mistakes that have been made and what can be learned from them.
Ryerson’s Creative Industries program is one that reaches so broadly that it can be unclear to others what can be done with the degree. That’s the beauty of the program. Students in Creative Industries are given knowledge that would help them prosper in most creative fields. They learn about business, how to be entrepreneurs, skills that they can take with them anywhere in the world. They can choose to specialize in a certain field, but their holistic experience is extremely valuable. The creative world is changing, and Creative Industries helps put students at the forefront of that change.
Without English students, there would be no beauty in words, no stories to carry you away and lose yourselves in. To be a great writer is not easy, it is something that needs to be practiced. English majors don’t have to be teachers; they can work for the government, businesses, news companies, anything that would need a good sense of the written word. Though film and photography can be learned without a formal education, especially in these days of easily accessible information, the connections that are made and opportunities that are granted in the years studying are invaluable. These connections and experiences give students a solid foundation to build themselves upon as they enter the workforce. Writers and filmmakers need to learn to work together to create a piece of art that will be enjoyed by audiences, no easy task.
History students are taught useful skills that can be applied in most fields requiring research and analysis, not just teaching or museum positions. I myself was able to find my great-great-grandfather’s war records from WWI, in which my great-grandfather was mentioned as a three-month-old. The look on my grandfather’s face to see these records was priceless, and the only reason I knew how to track these records down was through my training. We are forced to analyze, to write critically and efficiently, to research; skills that take years to develop and are extremely valuable. The students of Creative Industries are trained in a wide range of fields, giving them skills they can apply to countless jobs that could take them anywhere. They help mold the creative world and aid in the creation of content to be used and enjoyed. The skills learned from the wide scope of their studies offers invaluable skills.
I wrote this article to clear up the misconceptions of education in areas of the Arts and other creative studies. These programs are not easy. No, we may not be doing complicated formulas, we may not be designing skyscrapers or doing nuclear physics, but that does not mean we do not work hard. Difficulty just manifests itself differently. The time and labour that is necessary for these programs is surprising to most, the application of learned skills even more so. It is not the name of the degree that matters, but what is taken from it. So no, my only option is not to become a teacher, I can do damn near anything I want.
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