The Practicality of the Arts

Martin Berger
Martin Berger, Acting Dean of the Arts (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, many parents have an understandable desire to see their children take what they perceive as the safest course of study—one that will lead to a secure career, or at least, to a useful graduate program.

When parents quiz me on the most "practical" majors, I point out that many corporations and graduate schools today have turned away from a narrow focus on specialized skill sets to seek out applicants who display aptitude for creative thinking and problem solving.

Google’s corporate hiring webpage surely speaks for many companies and universities when it notes: "We’re looking for people who have a variety of strengths and passions, not just isolated skill[s]" and are "less concerned about grades and transcripts and more interested in how you think."

The reality is that every major in the Arts Division has the potential to produce graduates who are attractive to both industry and the academy.

Arts degrees offer unique advantages in today’s society. Our students acquire the knowhow to be both cultural producers and critical interpreters of the world around them.  Many of our majors intervene in artistic, social, and political debates by creating films, operas, plays, musical compositions, dances, paintings, prints, and performance art.  Others immerse themselves in understanding what such artistic creations reveal of the historical eras and cultures in which they were produced.

All of our students gain fluency in new visual and acoustic languages, which allows them to create and decipher a range of arts. Rather than passively consuming films, recitals, and exhibitions, our students learn to be thoughtful creators and decoders of the complex visual and aural texts that are a ubiquitous feature of twenty-first century culture.

Our majors also gain understanding of the varied cultural traditions of the nation and the world at a moment when our state and country are becoming increasingly diverse and interconnected. In the Arts at UC Santa Cruz, many of our students immerse themselves in the canonical art of Shakespearean theater, Renaissance painting, and Hollywood film, but they are just as likely to plunge into Indonesian dance, contemporary Latino art, African-American music, or global cinema.

Our graduates consistently remark on how their studies have provided them with the ability to understand cultures different from their own and find new ways of thinking about complex social problems.  

So, whether they ultimately seek a career in the arts or beyond, our students graduate with the aptitudes and perspectives that are essential for employees, students, and citizens in our increasingly globalized society.