Fine arts, useless degree or hidden gateway?

Years of learning, hours of waiting, minutes in line, seconds of congratulations, one placeholder document — and finally, weeks later, your degree.
Now, what exactly do you do with it?
Every graduate asks this same question at one point or another, usually after being prompted by a parent or relative who may or may not agree with the graduate’s life choices.
Students in fine arts programs likely hear this more than others. Fine arts degrees are largely considered useless according to several surveys, such as one printed in Newsweek in April 2012, listing it as the single most useless degree out there.
Others do not agree.
“Art is one of those fields that you do because you have this undying urge and need to express yourself,” Enzina Marrari, UAA adjunct art professor, said.
Mararri received her undergraduate degree in fine art from UAA, where she specialized in sculpture, and her graduate degree at New York University in 2007. A few years later, Marrari became an adjunct faculty professor in UAA’s women’s studies department, and as of fall 2012, she is also an adjunct professor in the art department, where she teaches 2-D design.
“If I didn’t have an advanced degree in arts, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” she said. “The climate for art faculty positions is pretty rough and pretty competitive across the country.”
Like many undergraduate degrees, fine arts degrees can serve as gateway degrees into more specialized and in-demand fields.
Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada released a list of 200 potential careers for graduates with fine arts degrees.
That’s more career options than they list for English degrees, environmental science, education, history and liberal arts combined.
Careers listed vary from advertising art director to art librarian, and jewelry designer to combat photographer.
“Be open to taking a job that may not be in the arts until you find one that combines your skill set with you academic training,” Marrari said. “You have to be persistent but be flexible.”
With the wide range of career options open to it, how could fine arts rank so low on the scale of viable degrees? Marrari believes it is because of a shift in cultural mindset.
“We’ve come from a time where the great masters of the arts, Leonardo and Michelangelo, were at the same level as doctors and scientists, where everyone was pretty equally valued,” she said. “When you look at our cultural shift and what we value as far as esteem and priority, art kind of falls lower on that spectrum … I think there’s been a disconnect on a larger scale with the significance and importance of art in our culture.”
Marrari isn’t entirely sure why that happened, but she has a guess.
“I think as we started putting more emphasis on more programs like the sciences, that emphasis on the arts dropped. Our focus on the arts dropped because we were focusing on more of a technical academic investment,” she said.
For students who want to major in the arts, Mararri has some advice for after graduation.
“Continue practicing and continue working on your art, even if what you do professionally is different than that.”
For Nipissing University’s full list of potential art careers, visit http://tinyurl.com/cvwjlyr
For Newsweek’s list of the most useless college degrees, go to http://tinyurl.com/c7w98zp