I have an arts degree.
I have two degrees actually. That used to be considered bragging but I find that there are a lot of people out there these days with two degrees. Or maybe it is still bragging and I’m just trying to justify it.
Anyway, I have an arts degree and my major was writing. Not media or publishing or screenwriting. Just writing. It was like a hybrid course between English, cultural studies and media. I learnt how to analyse the writing of others, I learned practical skills to apply to my own writing, I learnt about the publishing process including manuscripts and editing, and I flexed my creative muscle writing short story after short story.
Seriously, so many short stories.
Now that I have graduated there are a few things I have realised about my arts degree that I wanted to pass on because I don’t think we talk about it often enough.
The first is much less important but still needs to be said, and that is: while you don’t need a writing degree to be a writer, it will definitely make you a better writer. A lot of people have natural talent and can hone that talent themselves. But formal training, in any form, can make you better. So whether it’s a couple of free online classes you find, or a Masters at a top university, getting training for your passion can help. It will help.
The second thing I have realised about my arts degree – and this has been much more important to me as I stumble through adulthood – is that my degree was not a waste of time.
We are all familiar with the societal status of the arts degree, at least in academic circles. Typically the arts degree is the butt of the joke and I get it. An arts degree can have a very loose structure and deal with arguably less practical topics like anthropology and writing and linguistics. I’m not saying that these pursuits are impractical; just that they are perhaps less practical than an engineering degree or a commerce degree. Hey, I was an arts student too – I get it.
But do not mistake less practical with useless.
Sure a sociology degree doesn’t immediately lend itself to a profession, but the knowledge and skills sociology students have obtained through their studies are still relevant and useful. A student with a history or politics major might not land a job as a historian or a politician, but they have learned something that not everyone else has, and have been taught how to critically analyse and understand complex ideas.
As a writing student I was often told my degree would be useless. I remember one of my law professors telling me that creative writing was the exact opposite of legal writing, and I have heard the same thing from lawyers as I’ve ventured out into the real world. Why study writing when I could have done something practical like commerce or criminology that would help me with my legal career?
But my writing degree does help me. It helps me every day.
When I’m at work and I’m writing submissions my degree helps me structure and formulate my work. When I’m communicating with clients my writing degree helps me understand the different ways I might need to communicate what I am saying based on how they are relating to what I am saying. Whenever I sit down to write anything I am using my writing degree. I am thinking critically, I am thinking intellectually. I am thinking.
Because no matter what you study, you’re still studying. That’s the point of an arts degree as far as I can see. The structure of your course and the majors and minors you choose are important, but what is more important is that you are learning. You are studying. You are thinking.
Of course this wasn’t the only reason I chose writing as my major. I wasn’t aiming for life skills; I was aiming for writer. I really enjoyed my arts degree and I always looked forward to sitting down and opening my writing notes once I’d closed my law notes. It was my happy place in the middle of my law degree – a place I could retreat to give my mind a rest. Or so I thought. What I was really doing was picking up new skills and actually learning how to learn – an independent skill we aren’t really taught how to do in high school. That’s what I ended up getting out of my writing degree.
So don’t let anyone make you feel bad for being an arts student. Yes your degree probably doesn’t have many practical world uses on the face of it. No you probably aren’t applying for internships like the law students are because how exactly do you intern in philosophy? But you’re still learning, you’re still growing, you’re still studying.
Arts students are still students, just like the rest of us.