Beyond the Bubble: Evaluating the Art Major

by Andrea Nease | 11/3/14 6:00pm

It’s that time of year — college seniors all over America are realizing that in fewer than 10 months they will be expected to morph into responsible adults who have ... jobs?

Fall term brings blitz after blitz advertising recruiting fairs, résumé workshops and mock interviews. We are bombarded with opportunities to perfect our marketability in the world of professionals. I constantly hear about so-and-so getting a job at Morgan Stanley, Google, McKinsey, this or that law firm, et cetera. The list goes on.

There is one field that I rarely hear mentioned, however: art. If you are one of those few students who have ventured off the beaten path to a degree in the arts — whether studio art or art history – you aren’t necessarily making headlines during the 14F job search bonanza.

Your parents have probably scoffed at your major once or twice. Society has probably deluded you into fearing the “starving artist.” Your friends beckon you to what I dare call the dark side of the liberal arts — the sciences. You are expected to be a math major, an engineering major or, at least for your future’s sake, pre-med.

As an econ-turned-art-history major, I decided to try to figure this dilemma out. Am I or am I not going to be homeless when I graduate as an art major, and why do I rarely hear about art majors’ graduate plans?

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project published a survey this year on the outcomes of those graduating with an arts degree and found that roughly 65 percent of recent graduates with majors in the arts said they had arts-related jobs. Fifty-two percent indicated satisfaction with their income.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report in 2011 that listed a $42,000 median income for fine arts graduates and 7.8 percent unemployment rate for recent fine arts graduates. For reference, a middle-class household on average holds a yearly income of about $60,000, Forbes reported last year.

On a positive note, according to the center, art majors actually tend to have a higher income than psychology majors and are mostly on par with other liberal arts degrees with regard to annual income after completing a B.A.

Financially, art majors appear to be holding on, and when they’re not, other career fields offer possibilities with open arms. But where will most art majors find work? Where are they working, and how did they get there? Finding out how to get an interview at Goldman Sachs is easy on our campus, but finding out how to snag a curatorial position at MoMA appears to be a mystery.

There’s no shortage of career options in the art world. Art history majors can become appraisers, curators, design technicians, artist managers and more. If you’re a studio art major, your options include working for printing firms, photo agencies, design companies, publishing companies, magazines and newspapers, among others.

Bottom line is, you will not starve. But as an art major, you must realize that if big bucks are your end goal, you may need to rethink your career path, not your major. An art major’s practicality lies in the fact that the skills you learn can come in multiple career fields.

Many people dismiss art majors because they do not think that art has professional value or real-world application. However, outside the realm of the art industry, these art degree graduates hold more cards than you realize.

Classes geared toward art majors are not centered on theorems. They are not about the rote memorization of biological processes or analyzing numbers. These classes train the mind to think outside the box. There are no theorems for analyzing the “Mona Lisa” — there are ideas and concepts, none of which can be deemed fact.

Those who study the arts learn how to write critical papers as well as creative pieces exploring the vast expanse of possible interpretations of a painting, whether that painting is their own creation or a 15th century work. They learn to be decisive as well as open-minded about the art they see, because they recognize the value of not judging a piece at first glance. Art majors receive the best of both worlds because they are not confined to a set of rules or procedures. Rather, they are exposed to translatable skills that can not only help them break through the meaning of a piece by Picasso but also help them seal a deal with a new insurance firm.

Who says a degree in the arts isn’t practical? When you have refined public speaking skills from art shows and class presentations on why Magritte’s pipe is such an important work, the idea of an interview post-college will not seem so scary. When you have developed various writing techniques, there is little chance you will panic when asked to submit a piece of writing for whichever job application you are working on. Most importantly, when you have the courage to declare a major in the arts — despite your friends’ hesitant gazes — you will find success. Taking a risk for your passion in the arts will pay off in ways you could never imagine.

For those yet to declare majors, keep in mind that practicality is a loose term used to label economics majors and engineers. Choose something you love, and if that happens to be the arts, don’t fret for the future — the skills you will gain along the way are priceless.

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