The Value of Art

Throughout school peers and some teachers never considered me as ‘intelligent’ as ‘brainy’ but I was ‘creative’, and ‘artistic’.  There’s no doubt this is a gender issue: where boys are more likely to be described as brainy and intellectual girls are creative and imaginative, and this division manifests in their subject choices and decisions. To take maths as an A Level subject make you smart. To take Art makes you creative. Not only does this correlate with the gendered pattern of who takes art as a subject, but is also because art is perpetually dismissed and degraded as a ‘soft’ subject. It perceived as requiring little intellectual engagement and is nowhere near as demanding as solving equations and performing chemical experiments. It is so regularly met with prejudice in national media, and if you enter ‘art’ into a Google search engine, the question ‘is art a soft subject?’ is one of the first to crop up. At points of making GCSE and A Level subject decisions I was bombarded with rumours that no top universities would take a look at me if I had art as a subject. Even my own father, the most creative person I know, a man who dragged me around art galleries since I was little, would encourage me to draw since the day I could hold a pencil, and covered the fridge in Pre Raphaelite post cards from the National Gallery gift shop, was anxious that taking art for A Level would ‘close doors’ and limit future opportunities. This is an apprehension one can understand: we live in an age where the art world is attacked by government cuts and receives nowhere near enough funding. It is constantly met with prejudice by government ministers and depicted as a ‘less significant’ aspect to the national curriculum. Around the time of sixth formers applying to university newspapers are guaranteed to expose what subjects to avoid if you want to gain a place at a prestigious Russell Group- one of them, of course, being art. As a result school careers advisers, teachers, parents and the child latch on to these messages that permeate throughout the media and we enter a cycle of art prejudice.

The truth is- and something I only came to learn after I cowardly abandoned Art after AS level, partially out of my personal struggle to prove to people I could take a difficult subject and I was ‘clever’ and also out of a slight fear that I would close those doors I believed were so were present- is that Art as an academic subject does not limit future opportunities. In fact, and more importantly, the value of art extends beyond that written on my GCSE results sheet. I’ve met many individuals, and indeed some of my closest, most creative and most intelligent friends with art as an A Level in Oxford and beyond who have in no way been penalised or discriminated by their A Level decisions. More than ‘closing doors’ it equips the person with a critical way of thinking and demands the capacity to be challenged. It enables the ability to reflect, to create and to think in ways you never thought were possible.

Rather than a ‘soft’ subject, it was in contrast my most demanding. This intensity it entails is perhaps a reason I wasn’t cut up for taking it on an extra year. Art requires a level of emotional investment and for an eighteen-year-old balancing essay’s, pressure of A grades and friendship problems I was incapable to deal with this emotional component to the subject. The necessity to pour yourself into the artistic form and dedicate yourself emotionally was something I shamefully didn’t feel quite capable of doing. Unlike the feeling of finishing a History essay, there was no switch off from the omnipresent demands and constant modes of thinking. Yet it is this that makes art so vital as an academic subject. There is no passive relationship between student and teacher, and it demands levels of communication and interaction that would never be seen in a maths class-room (although I haven’t set foot in a maths classroom since the age of 16 so feel free to challenge me on that one). The sharing of ideas, the discussions of forms and the daily challenges and discoveries make art subject in which the individual can develop both emotionally and intellectually. The way art interrelates with different forms: literature, history and politics demands a level of intellectual engagement. These intersections provide a platform in which art can encompass social and political issues, intertwining these with its aesthetic beauty. A year on from taking my A Levels and dropping the subject altogether, I continue to engage myself in the artistic process; submerging myself in creating, visiting galleries and writing about art. It is a subject that never really leaves you. To deny it academic credibility is to deny the feeling and sensation it can evoke in the individual. It is to deny the significance of its contribution to society and it is to deny the struggles and the emotional investment put in by the individual. The value of art reaches beyond the value of any GCSE or A Level grade.