Posing with her camera and drone, junior Caroline Judd shows the equipment she needs to continue her career as a photographer. Judd used her own money to purchase her equipment and uses her own time to take and edit photos. “I’ve invested lots of money into camera equipment and editing software that you can’t get at school,” Judd said. “I understand that that isn’t a priority for the school, but it’s hard when you want to follow a career that isn’t typical or STEM focused because you have to put so much time into outside of school while also balancing your schoolwork.” (Rachel Ellis)
Posing with her camera and drone, junior Caroline Judd shows the equipment she needs to continue her career as a photographer. Judd used her own money to purchase her equipment and uses her own time to take and edit photos. “I’ve invested lots of money into camera equipment and editing software that you can’t get at school,” Judd said. “I understand that that isn’t a priority for the school, but it’s hard when you want to follow a career that isn’t typical or STEM focused because you have to put so much time into outside of school while also balancing your schoolwork.”

Rachel Ellis

Art students face the pressures of STEM focused education

November 29, 2018

Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics. These fields have been pushed on us since we were young. Elementary schoolers take art and music classes once or twice a week, but are drilled in their times tables almost every day. When schools are short on funding, art programs are the first on the chopping block. The emphasis on STEM-related fields in public education has degraded the presence of the arts, such as drawing, painting, theater, photography, music and so many more that are a vital part of our culture.

With the paucity and often absence of arts education in elementary and middle schools, students are bred to believe that the arts are lesser, unnecessary, frivolous. In order to graduate, most high schools require only two semesters of an art class, but six to eight semesters are required for both math and science courses. Every high school should require basic math and science courses, of course, but for a student uninterested in STEM fields, three to four years of a course that doesn’t progress the student’s future is a waste of time.

Lydia Roseman
Chart made on Piktochart

A heavy load of math and science courses often makes students more appealing on college applications, confirming the seemingly irreversible flaws of today’s education system. College is advertised as a time that students are free to build the future that they desire, but, because primary and secondary education is so focused on STEM, universities follow suit and ascribe less value to the arts. Art classes are rarely required as general education courses while subjects like Calculus and Chemistry are necessary for almost every degree, even those unrelated to STEM fields.

Furthermore, education that doesn’t value art creates a population that doesn’t value art. A student pursuing nursing, engineering, or another STEM-related career automatically earns the respect of those around them, but for an art student, this is no easy task. To be a respected artist, a creative student must work harder than a STEM student to prove themselves equally important, talented and capable of success. Art students are told that there are few careers that support their passions, and, the ones that exist, are too far out of reach for a Midwesterner.

When a creative student announces plans to pursue a career in the arts, the idea is dismissed as a phase. The artist is considered a naive and overly ambitious teenager with a false sense of confidence. Creative students spend the entirety of their lives being told that, within the arts, there is no future, no money and no sustainability. The media and our world preaches individuality and creativity, but, when a person puts these thoughts to action, the world tells them that without a “rational” backup plan, they will have no way of supporting themselves.

This prejudice against artists can be avoided and eliminated altogether with a greater implementation of arts education in public schools, rebuilding appreciation for the arts from the youngest up. Arts students should be granted more freedom to pursue their dreams within their schools—the freedom that STEM students already have. Through our education, the world must be taught that the arts play a vital role in our culture—without art we would be without movies, music, fashion, entertainment and individuality all together.

Junior Caroline Judd gets a head start on arts focused career


Rachel Ellis

Looking into the camera, junior Caroline Judd stands with some of the equipment she uses in her photoshoots. Judd prefers to shoot outside in natural lighting rather than indoors with flash photography. “Natural lighting fits well with the photography that I envision,” Judd said. “Natural lighting makes editing my photos much easier because it allows me to play with the colors.”

What kind of art do you create?

“I am very passionate about photography and videography. I started out doing classic art like drawing and painting, but I discovered my love for photography when I got my first camera. After that, my skills developed and now I have my own business.”

How much time do you spend with photography outside of school?

“My work is mostly separate from school. I have several photoshoots per week and they all take hours outside of school, and none of them have anything to do with school. It’s something that I have to take my own time to do.”

Does your school sufficiently provide for artistic students?

“I’ve had teachers like [Debra] Klevens and [Katy] Mangrich who have helped me, but I would say that 99 percent of what I do to progress my career is done outside of school. I think that students who don’t have the resources that I do would not be able to reach their potential with what the school gives us. I’ve invested lots of money into camera equipment and editing software that you can’t get at school. I understand that that isn’t a priority for the school, but it’s hard when you want to follow a career that isn’t typical, or STEM-focused, because you have to put so much time in outside of school while also balancing your schoolwork.”

As an artist, do you ever feel underestimated by the STEM-focused world?

“I sometimes feel underestimated by adults. I feel like people underestimate me when I tell them I do photography. I’ve shown some of my teachers my work and they have said that they underestimated me. That just shows what people think of you as an art student.”

How do you respond to people who tell you to find a backup plan?

“I’m going to do what I love with my life, and whether that’s photography, or something different, I know what it’s not. I think that people are born with certain passions and there’s only so much that they can do to change their passion. I won’t need a backup plan because I’m so passionate about what I do. I know my career as a photographer will work because I work so hard and already have my own business.”

How does it feel to be an artist attending a seemingly STEM-focused school?

“I think it’s important to have a balance of every field in school, but I also think that there should be more opportunities for kids who know exactly what they want to do in the future. There are a handful of kids who are sure of their career, and I think that they should be able to work on that in school. If I’m going to be a professional photographer, why do I need to know how to solve a polynomial function? It just doesn’t make sense and it’s frustrating for me to sit at school when I could be away from school, challenging myself in things that actually correlate with my life.”

Given the chance to confront STEM-focused educators, what would you say?

“Artists need to be taken more seriously. Just because we’re not in a STEM field doesn’t mean that we can’t make an impact. We’re not like everybody else, but that doesn’t mean that we deserve fewer class options, less funding and less credibility. Being a creative person surrounded by students who are worked like machines frustrates me greatly and I wish there were a way for students’ personal passions to be encouraged at school. It’s not that I don’t feel like I belong, it’s that if I had a schedule that allowed me to be more creative, I could work harder for my future while improving my mental health. While I do work hard in school and earn good grades, my high school transcript says nothing about me.”

How do you manage your time between school and photography?

“I struggle with stress and anxiety because of my busy schedule, but I know that it’s something that I have to deal with because my high school doesn’t offer me the resources that I need to pursue my career while also functioning as a full-time student. I have to keep my end goal in mind because it helps me realize that high school is just something that I have to get through in order to be where I want to be. After these four years, there will come a time that I’ll be able to truly thrive in the career that I have built.”

What would you say to other young, aspiring artists?

“Don’t let a system tell you your worth. You will be underestimated by your teachers and your school, so be sure of yourself, know yourself and let that drive you. You’re worth more than your transcript.”

Sophomore Arden Dickson pursues theater in a STEM-focused world


Wagner Portrait Group

Staring into the spotlight, sophomore Arden Dickson performs in the fall play The 39 Steps. Dickson has been featured in 21 shows since she began participating in theater five years ago. “The arts are creating something out of nothing, based purely on what is inside of you,” Dickson said. “STEM subjects emphasize technicality, memorization, and what people don’t realize is that art is just as, if not more difficult. Art is creating something completely new based on what is going on inside your head, which, I guarantee for everyone, is a hot mess.”

What career are you pursuing?

I really want to go to a Conservatory Performing Arts college and get a Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) in either acting or musical theater, preferably musical theater. Those programs are really hard to get into, but that’s what I’m striving towards.

Have you ever felt judged because of your plans to pursue a career in the arts?

I remember one day I was getting coffee with my sister, Emily, and we struck up a conversation with an older couple. They asked what careers we wanted to pursue once they figured out that we were high school students. Emily said, “I want to go into nursing, I’m going to Rockhurst.” They commented on how amazing that was and then turned to me and I told them I want to pursue a career in performing arts. They nodded and then turned back to Emily and told her how great of a career nursing is and continued to talk to her about that. That is a really good example of how people respond to the arts. Lots of people think that it’s a “phase.” They don’t understand how rigorous and intense these programs are. First, we’re greeted with this denial of the fact that it’s a career, and, after we explain that it is a career, we’re told: “It’s not going to be you, you haven’t had enough training, you’re from Missouri.” It’s a double negative in that aspect.

How does it feel to be an art student in a STEM-focused school environment?

Art programs, specifically the theater, will be given little funding while athletics are very highly funded which reflects the focus at West. The issue is not only funding but the social stigma surrounding art careers. A STEM student is often seen as more intelligent than an art student. If someone says that they love math and science, people will consider that person very smart, but if an art student says that he’s just finished a photo project that he’s been working on for a very long time, the importance of it will be disregarded.

What challenges do you face while pursuing your career during high school?

Time management, as of late, is something that I’ve been struggling with a lot. I’m starting to tweak my schedule around theater which is hitting me in the face with the reality of it. I’ve had to drop this and that so I can maintain the love and passion of what I want to do. For a while, I was involved in a few different school clubs on top of the theater, and recently I decided to let those go. They weren’t things that I was truly passionate about and they were degrading my health because it just got to be too much. I’m not diagnosed with anything, I’m just a kid, but the stress that comes with balancing it all is immensely suffocating. Especially as a student, we’re very angsty and unstable, it’s difficult to navigate through the realm of being professional and being a kid and trying to learn and grow the same way that other kids are.

What advice would you give to other students pursuing a career in the arts?

Don’t think of yourself as a lesser student just because you excel in the arts. In truth, art is such a huge part of our culture. When you look at a society or a culture, you may look at their statistics regarding technology, innovation and intelligence, but what makes a country a country and a school a school is the art, the diversity. To creative students, I don’t want to say cut yourself some slack, but understand your strengths and the importance of them in our school and in our society.

Junior Ryan Egan uses STEM courses to pursue a career in music


Maria Newton

Strumming his guitar and singing into the microphone, junior Ryan Egan performs with his band The Brink STL at last year’s benefit concert. Egan has been playing concerts in the St. Louis area for four years. “I love performing,” Egan said. “It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy playing in front of a crowd and just playing music in general. I hope to release some music so that I can spread my messages of positivity, perseverance and dedication.”

What kind of art are you interested in?

I play in a band called The Brink STL. I’ve been playing guitar for eight years, and I’ve been playing gigs and concerts around St. Louis for the past four years. We play a little bit of everything. We play covers of pop bands like Panic! at the Disco and The Killers, but we also play classic rock and everything in between. I write a lot of originals and I’m trying to get people on board with that, but I’m having a hard time finding musicians who have time to learn and play originals.

What career are you pursuing?

I’m looking into engineering and trying to find a way to incorporate music with engineering. I want to pursue something like audio engineering which is designing and working to make sure that sound is getting through an auditorium. I’m interested in designing guitars and other equipment, and I hope that I can perform my music as a professional musician, but the industry is tough. I’d really like to be successful and have people care about music. I’d like to change somebody’s life with music because being able to influence is really important to me. I think that having a platform is unique because it’s something that can be subtle. Being a musician, your ideas will never be forced onto anyone, people choose to listen to it. Music can be listened to at any time and there are lots of opportunities to speak your mind freely and have others relate to you.

How much time do you spend on music outside of school?

I haven’t taken any guitar courses at school because I’ve been taking private lessons once a week for quite a while. People say that to be a master at your craft you need to put in 10,000 hours and I would say that I’ve at least put in that much of practicing skills, writing songs and playing music.

How do you balance music and academics?

I’ve never been able to fit music into my school schedule, it’s always been something that I’ve had to make time for outside of school. Time commitment and the balance between academics and music can be really difficult. There is music, on one hand, that you want to take seriously, but not a lot of people are supporting you, but, on the other hand, academics is something everyone feels like they need and are inclined to because it’s a safer route than the arts.

Do you think that the school provides adequate courses in music?

There are a lot of courses at the school that are teaching how to read music and how to start with music, but, unless you’re really interested in music and have the drive and the passion to learn it yourself and work outside of school, music can feel like a homework assignment. Even if you are interested in music, it can feel stressful at first, but it should eventually become something that you enjoy. It shouldn’t be something that you feel like you have to do because you’re taking a class that doesn’t make you feel passionate about music. School courses don’t do a very good job of conveying the passion that a lot of artists feel about music.

Do you think that the school places pressure on students to pursue academics rather than art?

I’m glad that my counselor provides recommendations for STEM style courses because it does give me an opening into the safer route. There are art schools that I’m getting emails from about music, but I like that I have the safety of STEM courses to back me up. STEM courses are a great way to ensure that I can get into college, where I can pursue music. The hope is that I can pursue music through high school and college and make something of it so that I don’t have to have a standard day job. I don’t want to be stuck doing the same thing everyday and I don’t think there are many others who want that either.

Does the school provide a safe environment for you to pursue music?

At the school there is definitely a lot of peer pressure to play sports, but I think that everyone should just do what they want to do regardless of what their peers think. Sometimes I feel underestimated by my peers because I prefer arts over sports, but I try to focus on my craft and remind myself that those people never have malicious intent. I try to look at the best of the things.

What advice would you give to other aspiring musicians?

Keep going with your dreams, keep trying, keep learning. Reach out to as many people as you can. There are going to be people that will laugh at you and give you trouble about your passion, but you should just keep going and give it your best shot.

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  • C

    Chuck CrosthwaitJan 10, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    The assertion that STEM detracts from the Arts, that our focus on infrastructure building education is somehow degrading or eroding those who would pursue artistic endeavors, is partially accurate. For some myopic reason humans are only able to focus on one thing at a time, particularly when learning. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    In no way do I advocate expelling Arts and Humanities from the general education but you have to realize what that term is. General Education, the big wrapper that encapsulates ALL education, by its very nature is not intended to be the only education you receive as a student at any level. We teach students how the natural expression of a mathematical function can create something with a strong and beautiful form that can be replicated with improved functions and materials to perform new tasks. But all of the STEM functions in that process can exist entirely without the artistic, subjective appreciation that engineered mechanical objects and their underlying mathematical formulae can be considered beautiful. In fact you can’t understand a significant part of the subjective beauty of a nautilus shell until you understand the mathematical expression borne out by its cell structure. The why of the math informs the why of artistic appreciation.

    By the same token we may be able to mathematically express the Mona Lisa and recreate it with technology but some of the subtle warmth of natural oils on handmade canvas hung on a neutral background with carefully cultivated lighting is lost in the digital translation. The arts need to remain separate so the expressions of subtlety that are subjective aren’t marred by the abrasiveness and sharpness of cold engineering and lifeless circuits. STEM needs to remain separate so the vagaries of artistic expression don’t confuse the analytical observations or dull the edges of precise calibrations. The subject shouldn’t care it is being photographed by a dSLR and the camera shouldn’t care what the subject looks like.

    STEM can’t create things consumers will consume without taking in to account form and design. Art can’t create infrastructure without STEM to guide the design. There are two truisms in those statements:

    STEM is what builds the world we live in. It may feel cold and lifeless at times but we fill those blank spaces with artistically pleasing things.

    Try as you might you can’t teach subjectivity. There should absolutely be exposure to those things that are artistically pleasing whether traditional artworks, music or underwater basket weaving but the focus of education is to create talented individuals who can contribute meaningfully to society.

    I don’t advocate eliminating Artistic Higher Education. I don’t advocate teaching that art careers are non-existent or worse useless. What I’m advocating is keeping them separate. In our already paltry funding spectrum forcing a painter to compete against a roboticist for the same money is preposterous.

    To address a specific point the reason, I feel (here we go being subjective 😉 ) the reason students who want to explore artistic careers are looked down upon is they tend to struggle in areas where objective letter or numeric grades are the standard, the literal measure. Humans like to compete with each other and, more importantly, measure their value against others based on objective qualifications accepted by society, i.e., scoring. When you provide an example of your artistic expression that isn’t appreciated by another individual their estimation of your value compared to their own is lower. When that example is used as your career motivation your value is perceived as reduced by comparison to someone who builds bridges.

    Slowly our global society is changing the perception that not personally appreciating the effort of someone doesn’t mean they provide no value to society. We’re beginning to leave behind our self-centeredness as individuals and collectives. Society as a whole is finally at a state where pursuing a life of artistic expression doesn’t have to mean going hungry and homeless. Such wasn’t the case just 30 years ago when artistic expression as not just a way of life but a method of income generation was viable to only a lucky few who still spent over half their adult life starving. Now there are the internet famous who eschew their workaday lives for artistic content creation on social media platforms. Scrapbooking has gone from a part time hobby for housewives has transformed in to a multi-million dollar industry that directed technology and engineering to create a cottage industry supporting an artistic craft.

    STEM students don’t have much of the freedom you ascribe to us. We are forced to maintain the nerd and geek facade that every kid who likes robots can fix your computer. “Engineers” either pilot trains in striped overalls or must only design space shuttles and transmissions. All scientists wear labcoats or want to work at CERN. Mathematicians have Coke bottle glasses, pocket protectors and are only dad bod men who can’t talk to women. The stereotyping is slowly disappearing with popular media embracing Geek Shic but all too often the scientific interest gives way to interpersonal complications. What was a medium that illustrated that geeks weren’t freaks became an instructive about how to homogenize and marginalize individuality until it more closely resembles ‘normal’ by drawing us out of the basement and away from keyboards.

    Within the scope of education the two should remain apart. By forcing them together in the manner STEAM does the artistic expression is stifled in rigid lines and graphable curves, mechanical advantage weakened by the necessity of graceful curves in 13 attractive colors. First teach them separately. Once the foundational lessons are learned show how they can be applied to each other.

  • E

    Emily DicksonDec 19, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Arden is such an inspiration to me and so many. Thank you for sharing her passion! Creativity is so important to our society and I’m so proud of Arden for constantly sharing her gifts with the world.

  • C

    Caroline JuddNov 30, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    This is awesome!! I cannot wait to read the rest of the series. Nice job as always Lyd

  • A

    Alina DunderNov 29, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    I feel this story on a personal level. Up until I discovered my passion in psychology, I really wanted to go to art school and do art full time, but I was always told to do something else like become a doctor or veterinarian, something that would make money. People have even attempted to sway me from psychology because of how difficult it is to make a living from the profession with all the societal pressures and stigma, but I’m still going for it. In fact I’m still going for art as a second major, so that even if I am doing a “real job,” I’m doing the things I love. I’ll probably eventually go to art school, but I think this topic is important to address in school systems especially when’s there’s always some sort of pressure on a student to go into something that makes the most money rather than what they may truly be passionate about.