After growing up in New York City, coming to Binghamton was a culture shock or rather, a lack-of-culture shock. I missed the museums, galleries and excess of creative people. My mother’s first job after immigrating to New York City was at the Guggenheim Museum, so I have been raised to value artwork and the spaces that showcase it.
The city fosters creativity — many of my best friends are musicians who write and produce their own music, graphic designers, visual artists or clothing designers. I also create art in a variety of mediums, for example, in March 2020, I created my own small clothing brand featuring my artwork on T-shirts, and I sold custom tank tops this winter.
For me, artwork and the city are inextricably linked. However, my relationship with art is complex. It is a passion that I know I will never abandon, but because of the stigma surrounding careers in the arts, my dream of being a professional artist has become diluted. Many people I have met express similar grievances — that they love art, but they won’t pursue a career in it because it is too hard to be successful, make money, etc. Not only does this stigma prevent people from pursuing careers that will make them happy, it hurts artists who have already chosen their path.
In the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 jobs in 2021, creative careers are rarely even included and the highest-ranked jobs are usually in technology and medicine. We have all succumbed to the negative stigma surrounding art because of how regularly it is emphasized; careers in the arts have become synonymous with instability and uselessness.
Studies have shown that creativity increases in your 20s, peaks in your 30s and early 40s, then declines from there. There is no shift in brain activity to indicate aging as a biological cause for this decline, so it is most likely due to the discouragement of creativity in schools and in society, and the pressure to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related careers.
More than 80 percent of schools across the nation have had their budgets cut since 2008. Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Common Core State Standards Initiative of 2010, schools have allocated more funds to core subjects like English and math to prepare students for standardized testing, but arts programs have been neglected. According to the website of KM Perform, a public performing arts high school in Wisconsin, “During the 1999-2000 school year, 20 percent of schools offered dance and theatre classes, and 87 percent of schools offered visual arts classes. After these budget cuts were put into place, during the 2009-2010 year … only 3 percent of schools allocated funds for dance, and … 83 percent of schools offered visual arts classes.” Because art classes are viewed as less important than common core subjects, they suffer the most from school budget cuts. New York City’s 2021 budget, passed on July 1, 2020, will cause a 30 percent cut in art education programs, once again diminishing the few opportunities left for students to develop artistic skills and express their creativity.
Engaging in art is not only enriching in itself, but helps students to develop crucial work and life skills. Data from the College Board in 2015 shows that students who took four years of art classes scored an average of 92 points higher on their SAT test than students who took half-year courses or less. Additionally, art practices creativity, resilience and collaboration — skills that are highly valuable to employers.
The stigma surrounding careers in the arts affects practicing artists as well, fostering insecurity in the way their occupation is viewed by others and adding pressure to prove their work deserves to be taken seriously. Attending museums, galleries, concerts and the theater are highly esteemed pastimes, but artists continue to be discouraged despite the hard work they do. If you do not “make it” as an artist, meaning becoming famous or making a lot of money, your work may be viewed as a failure. Part of the problem lies in the fact that putting a monetary value on art is inappropriate and impossible — art is intrinsically valuable, but survival in our society requires that we make money.
If you are really lucky, the line between your hobbies and your career becomes blurred, or there is no line at all. Pursuing a career in the arts is controversial, as it is questionable whether the value of art can properly be measured monetarily, or whether the value of art can be objectively measured at all. Having some artists’ work valued monetarily higher than others is counterintuitive, as the point of art is that it is unique to each artist and to who appreciates it. However, there are positive impacts of the capitalization of art: it gives artists the opportunity to make more projects, encourages the establishment of institutions based around the arts and makes art accessible to be privately owned by the public.
Even if you are not pursuing a career in art, or have no faith in your artistic skills, you can benefit greatly from pursuing an artistic hobby. Art has been shown to reduce anxiety as well as make people feel happier and more relaxed. I have found that my homesickness is curable through art. Attending galleries in Downtown Binghamton, participating in painting nights in my suite and setting time aside in the mornings to draw has made me feel less stressed and more creative. On State Street in Downtown Binghamton, Artists’ Row features several studios and galleries, including “Uncorked Creations,” which offers a variety of art classes, as well as an open studio for ceramics and pottery. On Clinton Street, Antique Row offers a few quaint antique and collectible shops.
However, there is a stigma even about art as a hobby. There is an increasing pressure to be “good” at our hobbies, or have something to show for them rather than just enjoying the act. Tim Wu, a professor of law at Columbia University, writes, “lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.”
I encourage everyone to engage in artistic creation and view art with an open mind, appreciating the activity or the piece for what it is and how it makes you feel. Art is crucial and should be promoted in schools, as a hobby and as a career. The stigma surrounding careers in creative arts is simply wrong — the arts contribute beauty, creativity and meaning to the world and fulfill the artist in incredible ways. Hopefully, artists and aspiring artists will get the support and resources they deserve to contribute to their craft in the future.
Doris Turkel is an undeclared freshman.