Art, While Fun, Is Still Work

I attend Rochester Institute of Technology, not necessarily the place you would expect an art student to go. It’s not that our school isn’t a great place to go for the arts, it’s that many times the art department is overshadowed by our more well-known technology departments. RIT’s working to rebrand themselves as a school blending creativity and technology, however, and I’m excited to watch it happen.

Since going to RIT I’ve noticed something I didn’t encounter as frequently back home, the insulting attitude towards the arts. I don’t want this to sound like a complaint, it’s interesting to meet people with different ideas than mine, yet the widespread nature of this superior attitude I find from, say, computer science or engineering majors is baffling to me.

This represents my lack of value in society or something!

This is a figure drawing I did in class. Such a stereotypical thing for us pretentious artists/hipsters/society moochers (or whatever people think of artists!) to do.

The arguments people have against artists (particularly art students) usually go something like this…

More after the jump!

  • Artists contribute nothing to society.

This is a widely held belief, and I can’t say that it’s never true. Some artists contribute nothing to society. But those are the bad artists. Just in the way that some programmers lack skills and talent, some artists lack skills and talent. You wouldn’t condemn the good programmers for their less skilled coworkers, would you? Additionally, artists act as historians, recording the culture and beliefs of their time periods. From cave paintings in prehistoric times to renaissance portraits, art has a lot to teach us about our past, how people lived.

  • Art students never have to work.

I’ll admit, this one always affects me personally. I do actually do work, and in fact, I often have more work than people from other majors. While my friend majoring in mathematics will have an hour or two of homework a night, I’ll often have twice that amount. The major projects (of which we have three or four every quarter) generally require around forty hours of work. That along with homework adds up quickly.

Another argument I hear a lot is that the work we do isn’t work, it’s fun. While aspects of art are fun, there’s a lot of legwork that needs to be done. In order to get to what I find fun, the polishing stage of the piece, I need to do create ideas, concepts, do research, create thumbnails, draw the piece, and then the physical painting, coloring, whatever the piece requires. People will find different parts of this fun because not all artists are the same.

Think of it this way, if you enjoy programming I’m not going to say that you don’t work for your computer science major. Obviously you work. Why is it that other majors can enjoy work and still call it work while artists cannot?

  • Artists don’t make anything useful.

Setting aside the arguments of cultural records and the development of creativity in our society (not to mention the obviously useful facets of illustration, interior design, graphic design, industrial design, architecture, etc), does the fact that what we create is a “luxury” good make it less worthwhile? There is a demand for art and we fill that demand. I’d liken this to video game designers creating video games. Video games are a luxury good, in fact, many argue that they prevent children and adults from being productive. Yet people do not hold the same derisive attitude towards video game designers as they do to artists.

  • Art is only for rich kids.

There are a lot of rich students who get degrees in the fine arts, true. However, just because some people see the major as a “blow off” doesn’t mean that we all do. In fact, there is a rich (not a pun!) history of artwork coming from unprivileged artists (Vincent Van Gogh, Faith Ringgold, and many more). A lot of the people who are getting this degree for the sake of a degree don’t go into the art world when they graduate anyways. This is almost a case of one apple spoiling the barrel. I hated that expression as a kid as it usually meant that I and my peers would be punished for the actions of one person.

Sorry for the length of this, I just wanted to puzzle out my feelings on the negativity towards artists here. While a lot of the jokes I hear are good natured the constant comments on how others are getting a “real” degree or how what I do is less of a valid choice than their’s does get to me.

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