When deciding to pursue a career in the fine arts, there often comes a stigma and a question if the decision to do so is practical. However, University of Rhode Island fine arts department chairs don’t find it necessary to question the practicalities of obtaining a degree in theater, music, art and art history.
“There’s a sort of assumption in our culture that certain kinds of creative endeavors in the arts and humanities don’t provide you with skills you need in the workplace,” Ronald Onorato, art and art history department chair, said. “But we find very often that they do provide you with skills from creating problem-solving skills to hands-on work.”
Onorato believes that students within the art and art history department gain a lot of skills that are often overlooked. Some of the many skills he said these students gain include working with digital equipment, machine shop and carpentry tools. While they also receive experience with creative problem solving, group collaboration and working independently, all skills that he believes will help them with any future career.
Theater Department Chair David T. Howard believes one of the biggest misconceptions about people who wish to have a career in the professional theater world just move to New York City without any training or plan. “I think those are the people a lot of people put in their mind as the unworking actor, people who are just waiters and waitresses in New York,” Howard said.
He said that many people do have training beforehand and are acting upon on the idea they’ve formulated of what they would like to do with their training. Howard admits that artists should be lucky to be doing what they are but that this luck shouldn’t result in them not getting paid for their work.
“[Many people had the idea] we shouldn’t be paid and we shouldn’t be happy that we are allowed to the things we do,” Howard said. “One of the things a university does is give people a basis, a degree to say I am a professional.”
While this stigma can result in lack of support for fine arts majors, it doesn’t seem like students’ passion for what they’re doing is going anyway either. Music Department Chair Mark Conley suggests the truth of this when he said that he never has to encourage people to pursue music because “they know they need to.”
Conley said that he recently read an article in the Smithsonian about how British doctors are looking into prescribing art, music, dance and singing lessons in replace of or addition to regular pharmaceutical prescriptions. This is because Conley believes they’re starting to recognize that the social aspects are what in our modern technological age and that medicine isn’t solving many of the core issues that are involved in health.
“One of the benefits of music is that we spend a lot of our day alone working on our discipline but then there’s a social aspect and we’re all together in an ensemble making music together,” Conley said.
The reality is that there are many more jobs out there after receiving degrees in theater, music, art and art history aside from performing, teaching or being an artist. Onorato said that many students go on to also work in museums, galleries, marketing and the manufacturing field.
“There’s this understandable need to equate financial security with benefit,” Conley said. “They’re not the same thing and I’m not saying that people don’t want to be financially secure but there’s no guarantee of anyone having job security of any major because robots can do it all in a year.”