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Arts: The Mother of Invention

Posted by Janet Langsam
Arts: The Mother of Invention

Every morning, I turn on the treadmill, tune into the Today Show and run until I bank 150 calories to earn a glass of Chardonnay at the end of the day.


Matt Lauer and the NBC crew are usually just eye candy and background chatter, but [April 25] they hit a nerve talking about college degrees that may be “useless” like “fine arts, drama, philosophy, religious studies,” when it comes to getting a job. Lauer quoted a recent poll that said that one out of two recent college grads are either unemployed or underemployed.


Donny Deutsch, one of the Today panelists said, “I never looked at a (college) major in my life in hiring people.”


And a good thing too since the National Arts Index published by the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, indicates that interest in the arts as a college major is growing. It says that from 1996–2010 more than 1.5 million degrees were awarded in visual and performing arts, with annual graduations growing steadily from 75,000 to 129,000—an increase of 73 percent.


Could all these college bound kids be wasting their time?


Fortunately, according to the Americans for the Arts website, there are a growing number of jobs out there in creative industries that range from museums, symphonies, and theaters to small for-profit film, video, music, architecture, digital games, and advertising companies. So one doesn’t necessarily need to land a leading role on Broadway to use their arts degree.


“Nationally, there are 904,581 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 3.34 million people. Representing 4.25 percent of all businesses and 2.15 percent of all employees, respectively,quotes the site. In case one is tempted to quibble with these figures, they come from the most trusted of sources, Dun & Bradstreet.


Like any other subject, there are at least two or maybe a hundred schools of thought, and we Neanderthals in the arts believe that “creativity” is a good enough reason to study the arts.


According to Newsweek in a 2010 article entitled “Creativity Crisis”: “A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care.”

The fact is that our businesses are crying out for creative employees…and…perhaps some of them learned to think creatively through the arts. The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful says Newsweek.


Steve Jobs said that this wouldn't have had different type faces without the arts.

While the arts don’t have a monopoly on left brain thinking or creative problem solving, they do have a remarkable track record.


So why is Lauer posing the question, “are (college) degrees in things like fine arts, drama, etc…useless when it comes to getting a job?”


Years ago (defined as when I went to college) a liberal arts education was thought to be the smartest and most comprehensive degree to pursue in preparation for a career in any field. Now, in this age of specialization, there is a college degree to be had in every narrow silo that fits a job description that may be “useless” in years to come.


I somehow doubt that such myopia will bring an entrepreneurial spirit back to American business.


Steve Jobs for one gave credit to a single calligraphy course in college, without which he says “the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

Who knows where inspiration will come from next, so don’t sell the arts short. It is the mother of invention.


(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Janet Langsam’s blog on April 25, 2012.)


*Photo courtesy of Jessi Jacobson.

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