Post high school and into the throes of first year university, I invariably found myself embodying the prototype of the Melbourne Arts student. I became the girl bringing in marinated tofu steaks for lunch after triumphantly going vegetarian. Having come from a high school that valued sport and Instagram likes over anything “artsy”, I was thrilled to find myself in a place where philosophy wasn’t a dirty word. Yet, it soon became apparent to me that outside this rosy realm, others were sceptical.
Venture beyond the boundaries of the Baillieu Library and others will ask, “what do you study?” to which you respond “Arts” and cue awkward laughter: “Hahaha, good luck finding a job with that one. I could never do that. That’s why I choose economics.” Lines such as “you’re such an Arts kids” and “Arts is such a joke, like don’t you all just smoke weed?” are also common responses.
Like the scrawny dude in second grade who has pimples, asthma and a mum who writes notes on his lunchtime banana, the Bachelor of Arts degree has long been looked down upon as the runt of the university litter. Recently, fast-food company Mr Burger ran an advertising campaign depicting burgers accompanied by the statement “better value than an Arts degree.” On the internet, one can easily find an array of memes and satirical images that mock the lack of employment opportunities associated with Arts degrees.
Those nevertheless pursuing a BA invariably fall into one of two categories: a) the wild, unhinged “poet” whose hippie leftism is a source of continuing family shame, or b) (preferred) the more sensible Arts student planning to pursue a noble career in Law. If you don’t fall into the latter, you can pretty much keep it in your pants please because unless you become the next Damien Hirst or JK Rowling, your economic value to society remains nil and therefore, you too are worth nil.
Recent cuts made by the Australia Council have chosen to discontinue funding some of Australia’s leading arts organisations, including Express Media, Meanjin, Theatre Works and the Centre for Contemporary Photography, to name but a few. Without this financial support, the future of these organisations has become uncertain, alongside the future of Australian creatives.
But if the arts were valued in society to the same degree as law, medicine, accounting or even real estate, funding wouldn’t be needed in the first place. Those who work in the creative fields are more familiar with hard work than most. We work the unglamorous jobs no one else wants because we have no choice. We spend our weeks and weekends in call centres, cafés and fast-food chains scraping dirty plates or hustling strangers for money. Why do we put up with this? Because we care a whole lot about people and ameliorating the passage of living in whatever way we can with our art. As Express Media editor Elizabeth Flux argues in her piece ‘Get A Real Job: Why It’s Not The Arts VS The World’, “The arts aren’t something you slot between Real Life Things That Matter. They permeate everything. They help us understand ideas in ways we might not be aware. They allow us to be less isolated, to know that others have experienced and are experiencing the same issues that we are.”
To deny the worthiness of an Arts degree because it isn’t conducive to capitalism is to deny the possibility that university degrees don’t have to entail secured financial achievement. Alternatively, the blessing of any BA is that it facilitates learning for the love of learning. For this reason, we can’t put a price on the work created by artists, writers, musicians, comedians and anyone else working within the arts industry. The merits of the arts may not be measurable in tangible gold dollars rapidly falling into Malcolm Turnbull’s pocket but that doesn’t mean they are worthless. In fact, what we do remains, and will always remain, priceless.