Slice of Life: A Case for Arts Education
Last weekend, I was crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, the connecting cities being Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan. I have a Nexus card, which means I get to fast-track the entire line and get through the border in five minutes maximum. Normally, the border security asks a simple question like, “where you heading?” To which I respond, “Detroit, to visit my boyfriend,” and they let me pass right through without blinking an eye. This past weekend was different though. It seemed as though this particular border security officer was either bored that day, or simply needed to kill time. So, he asked, “Where you heading?”
“Detroit, to visit my boyfriend.”
“Oh yeah? What’s he up to?”
“He’s studying dentistry, but he’s a Canadian citizen.”
“So why don’t you join him there, in Detroit? What’s holding you back in Toronto?”
“I work in Toronto.”
“What do you do for a living? What kind of work?”
I didn’t want to get into too much detail, explaining that I run one of the largest visual art programs in the GTA, with over 250 students attending my school. I also employ nine prominent artists to teach our students ranging from Senior Kindergarten–Grade 12. I didn’t want to explain that we have a unique and rigorous curriculum in which we teach students as young as age 5 about the fundamentals of art technique, creative expression, and creating impressive visual outcomes. I didn’t want to explain how my business won the Business Achievement Award from the Richmond Hill Board of Trades. I didn’t want to explain the importance of art education in children's lives, and society as a whole. So instead, I replied, “I teach art.”
He looked at me, smirked, and said, “Oh an art teacher yeah? Ha! Right, that’s why you won’t join your boyfriend in Detroit. He’s over there making all the money while you teach kids how to draw!”
One may think that these sorts of comments offend me because they are:
a. Passively misogynistic
b. Insulting and demeaning
c. Flat out rude and intrusive
The truth is, this is not why these sorts of comments — which I receive on a daily basis — hurt me. What hurts me most is knowing that this officer, and many like him, have sons and daughters at home who hear the same rhetoric day in and day out.
For the majority of my academic life, people persuaded me and my peers to think that a fine arts education is not worth the investment of money and time. That is to say, there are no viable career paths for those in the creative field, and the starving artist syndrome is real.
Yet, it is those same people who purchase Apple products for their intuitive design and user interface, who would spend thousands of dollars on designer handbags, who refer to sports cars as beautiful and sleek in design, who choose a book entirely based on its cover and get sucked into creatively designed packaging, who take pictures in front of grand architecture, and who watched Frozen five times in a row.
Look around you — society and its consumerist culture is entirely predicated on creative, well-executed art and design. As human beings, we make many important decisions with our eyes; we feel very moving emotions through what we see. Why don’t we take art education more seriously? Why do we keep telling our children that art is just a hobby? Why do we spend thousands of dollars on hockey and dance lessons, yet art class is an afterthought?
Don’t get me wrong; I was a dedicated competitive dancer for 10+ years of my child and teen years. But it is not the 15 hours of dance practice a week, thousand-dollar costumes, or hostile competitive environment that lead me to where I am now. I am running a well-respected and successful business with the help of my art education.
The 2019 Academy Awards awarded Domee Shi (Bachelor of Animation), a Sheridan College graduate, with an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for her directorial debut, Bao. This was a winning moment for all creative minds and shows just how far an art education can take you. For all you know, you may win some pretty major awards and accolades for your work.
We need to rethink what makes a viable career opportunity and open our eyes to the endless possibilities that an art education can provide. We need to steer away from the stereotypical starving artist delusion and begin to take art education more seriously. Society needs more creative thinkers and art creators. Whether it be a career in architecture, advertising, fashion, automobiles, marketing, product design, or like me, in art education, there are endless possibilities of where this field can lead.