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.
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
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
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
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.