Opinion

Art, STEM, and Why We Need Both

I think my dad literally died a little inside when I told him I wanted to go to art school. For years, I was positive that I was going to attend Brigham Young University (my parents’ alma mater) and get a degree in education. Recently, I’ve been exploring other options for colleges and career paths. My dad got a degree in chemical engineering and is a strong advocate of the importance of STEM careers, so he struggled to understand why I would want to go into an unstable job field. In fact, as I told him about the new possibilities I was considering, I watched him go through the five stages of grief in three seconds.

Throughout my life, I’ve been told that art is a great hobby, but not a great career. My parents, teachers, and other adults winced slightly or laughed when I told them I wanted to become an artist. I’m lucky enough to be able to do very well in school with minimal effort, and this simple fact seemed to persuade them that I was going to throw away my life and potential on a crazy fantasy.  After lots of advice, I decided I wanted to become an art teacher. I would be able to take all of my art classes in college, but I would have a stable degree to lean on. I listened to Larry Smith’s “Why You Won’t Have a Great Career” TED talk and all of a sudden, I wanted to become a full-time studio artist. I threw caution to the wind and started researching art colleges like the Rhode Island School of Design and the California Institute of Arts. I was so excited to find people and places that had passions in common with me. Then I saw the price. RISD has an estimated annual cost of $70,560. To put this into perspective, Harvard has an estimated annual cost of $67,580. I was utterly crushed but willing to plunge myself into crippling debt.

My parents were much more cautionary and strongly advised against taking out loans that large. They once again brought up BYU and discussed the art programs that it had. I’m naturally a pretty stubborn individual and I resented being told I couldn’t do something. I looked into scholarships and other available funding. Originally, as I started researching art schools, I was looking for BFA programs in painting and drawing but I began to look at other degree programs. One of my best friends has had to endure all my ranting about various options (I’m sorry, Benji). Most recently, I’ve been considering illustration. When I was younger, I always wanted to be an author. As a teen, I want to be an artist. Illustration mashes both my past and current passions, which makes it an enticing career for me.

My dad, on the other hand, has always been pretty techy. His degree in chemical engineering speaks to this fact and he enjoys hobbies that allow him to use and modify technology. He always found structure and consistency in STEM programs, and it came more naturally for him than other subjects. My sister and brothers all inherited this ability to do math and science well, but I seemed to have skipped out on the left brain genes. When I was taking the PSAT I felt very confident until the math portion. Contrary to me, one guy in my testing class claimed that the math section would be his “saving grace”. I wanted to smack that kid.

One amazing trait of humans is that all of our brains work differently. I absolutely suck at math and science, but I do well with languages, art, and music. I can quickly grasp harmonies and Spanish vocabulary words like my brother can grasp high school level math in sixth grade. When I was playing the ukulele once, a woman from my church came up to tell me that I was “the talented sister”. My sister, Kali, who was sitting right next to me, looked mildly embarrassed. The woman promptly turned to her and said, “But don’t worry; you’re the smart sister”. Kali and I still laugh about it, but at the time it was incredibly hurtful to both of us. In some aspects, this is an accurate portrayal of how the world sees different types of people: artsy people are talented, and STEM people are intelligent. We often fail to understand that all people are both talented and intelligent in some way or another. The guy who can’t understand calculus to save his life but can cook a mad Crème Brûlée is equally gifted as the girl who cannot sing a note in key but can do rocket science in her head.

Recently, there has been a movement to change STEM to STEAM. The ideology behind the change is the fact that art is a valuable and necessary part of society. The ability to think creatively goes hand and hand with the STEM program. Since this summer, I’ve been in a constant pursuit of knowledge. This includes reading as many classic novels as I can get my hands on, having vivid and real talks with a variety of people who have a variety of opinions, and listening to hours and hours of podcasts. I especially love to listen to TED talks because of the diversity in topics, people, and experiences. Not only are there amazing designers, inventors, and engineers, but artists, musicians, and linguists.

There is no way to measure true intelligence or skill. I’ve been reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it is a clear example of how true this is. It talks in depth about Andrew Carnegie’s success within the American steel industry. Carnegie was neither the most intelligent nor gifted person in the industry, but he did know how to talk to and work with people. On an IQ test or paper Carnegie may not have seemed overly impressive, but through his natural knack for human interaction, Carnegie was able to become one of the richest men in the U.S. Success is not determined by your natural ability or inclination in any area; it is determined by your ability to work hard and work well with others.

As we work together, no matter what your skills or abilities are, we can create a better way of living. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as “us” vs. “them”. When we demonize others, or even just refuse to listen to each other, we stop ourselves from progressing. We have the amazing opportunity to learn from each other, so why would we not want to expand our own ideologies? In our society, we need the movers, the shakers, the dreamers, and the realists. Neither art nor STEM is more important than each other; the important thing is that we realize how our differences can help each other.

One comment

  1. I think it’s a good idea to add art to the stem program. Art and STEM, although two different things are still a part of our lives. Together they bring amazing feats of architecture, Statues and skyscrapers that are visually appealing. They create music, the science of sound waves plus the heart of a musician. They even contributed to AHS with how the workers saw Anacortes when they first built this school.

    This is another amazing opinion article, I hope we can see STEAM happen someday. I hope you’ll be able to pursue a career in the arts without anyone judging you.

    -Anonymouse

Leave a Reply