By Renner Clements, Opinion Editor
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin sparked controversy among the state’s educators while speaking at the 2017 Governor’s Conference on Postsecondary Education on Sept. 13. Commenting on his vision of establishing Kentucky as “the center of engineering and manufacturing excellence in America,” Bevin spoke out against public university arts degrees.
“If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” Bevin said.
This blanket statement of all art degrees, while potentially accurate in some extraneous contexts, misses the point of higher artistic education completely and ignores the importance of personal responsibility in the student.
To pursue a degree within the arts is not an endeavor to pity or to shame but something to be encouraged. Art as a concept is difficult to grasp, and committing to learning the skill required to practice that concept is just as difficult. Artistic-focused college majors are not substantiated with finger-painting, improv exercises and other touchy-feely daycare activities; they are substantiated with difficult discussions on the nature of humanity, the impact of brilliant minds of the past and the applicability of creative development in society.
“Everyone assumes in any field they go into, they have to go through a level of rigor in building skills and building a knowledge base to become competent enough to be excellent in their field. The same thing goes for the visual arts,” said Chris Segre-Lewis, associate professor of painting, drawing and design.
“We’re not trying to get each student to a specific compulsory level. The rigor lies in students creating excellent, creative and well-crafted work every time they come into class,” Segre-Lewis continued.
Lengthy essays and verbal exams are utilized within the fine arts to ensure the information is taking root within the students. Music degrees are even more complicated; not only do students have to become proficient with their instrument, but they also have to comprehend the history of music, the science of sound and the complex mathematics of sight and aural music theory.
“Studying music helps me understand the genetic makeup of music and how it is created,” said junior Anthony Antonelli, a music major. “It creates a sense of discipline and time management for me, which I use in every other aspect of my life.“
The knowledge and wisdom gained from the artistic educational experience can be incredibly useful in supplementing the practical mechanics of everyday life, in and out of the workplace. Curriculum is not the issue. The outside perception of the subject matter is.
This is not to say that Bevin’s sentiment is not merited — it is important to be financially responsible when debating whether or not to attend a college or university for your major of choice. I would argue that all students need to practice wisdom and discernment regarding the economical opportunity of their career of choice. If the student decides that attending a university is the most valuable life option, then that student needs to practice thorough career planning to ensure economic stability (to the best of their ability) for the future, regardless of a chosen major.
If a student desires to be an engineer, they should be diligent in making connections, building a technical knowledge of their craft and utilizing scheduling and budgeting skills while enrolled at a college or university. The same principle is true for the fine art major. The key factor is not choosing a successful major, it’s personal responsibility.
STEM fields should be encouraged just as much as the fine arts; there are careers available in both. Entertainment plays a large role in the modern economy, and Kentucky realizes this; just two weeks ago Asbury University hosted the announcement of the Kentucky Film Certification Program, an incentive organized to encourage the growth of film careers within the state of Kentucky. It seems ironic that this statewide effort to increase artistic success would fall right on the heels of Bevin’s comments, thus beckoning universities around the state to cut the very majors that the local economy is trying to encourage the growth of.
Governor Bevin’s dream for Kentucky to be a mechanically-minded engineering establishment is not a negative one—but his backhanded bashing of artistic academic achievement is.