By Mica Anderson
Let’s set the scene. Here we are, 100(ish) days into quarantine. Some may be out during the day, taking advantage of the increased allowed exercise time. Or perhaps, enjoying a safe and responsible socially distanced catch-up. Or, if you are really, REALLY lucky, and you’re someplace like New Zealand, you’re allowed to actually GO INTO someone else’s house!
But these are recent developments. A precious few weeks ago, we were shuttered up in our homes, yearning for the days where we could pop down to the local, and cluttering up our friends’ Instagram feeds with throwback pictures of ‘when we could touch!’ What exactly filled our time in those earlier days? Indeed, what did we all turn to when we were commanded indoors, and forced to fill the hours with something to keep us from going insane?
That’s right - the arts.
Pick your poison: National Theatre Live, BBC boxsets, Netflix Originals. Even if all you’ve devoured is sports reruns while waiting for the return of football, I’m sure you slipped in an episode or two of Gavin & Stacey - you know, just to feel alive.
Or perhaps you decided to let your inner artist out in lockdown. You put pen to paper, or took up watercolours, or embroidery, or crochet; perhaps you’ve started doing elaborate makeup despite no-one being there to see you, and customizing your clothes; perhaps you’ve done an online ballet class, or even spent 15 minutes trying to learn a complicated TikTok dance and then given up and gone to get a drink (this one may be a bit more personal).
People have started blogs, recorded podcasts, published poetry and created masterpieces. But it seems that, at least amongst those who decide where funds get allocated to in schools, there is an opinion that the arts are unimportant. That they take a backseat to more essential, stimulating subjects - namely, maths and science. There seems to be a sentiment that school is all about earning the right grades in the right subjects, so you can get into a good university; there, you will get the right grades in the right subjects, get the right degree, and go into the right job- with absolutely no room for creativity on your part.
Now I can’t deny the importance of STEM subjects; I’m not saying we should cast away the calculators and test tubes and all take up GCSE’s in interpretative dance, but it seems that students have begun picking subjects based on necessity rather than enjoyability. 16-year-olds are worried more about their potential employability 6 years down the line, rather than choosing a subject that may push the bounds of their creativity. And it’s all because of a school and university admissions system that has, over the years, become trained on points over person.
I had the immense privilege to have been educated in an international school with an incredibly well-funded arts program. The space in which I was instructed to push the boundaries of creativity was endless, with money and resources being no object. There was no fear of shows being cancelled because the budget would not allow it - and myself, and other students who took arts-related subjects (drama, art, film, dance) were given a time and space in which we were allowed to express ourselves, to deepen our understanding of the art in the world around us, and to engage in our passions. But perhaps the more cynical among you wonder how exactly ‘expressing oneself’ will have a real-world application that could be put on the ‘special skills’ portion of a CV. It seems that the communication skills, the ability to work in a team, the ability to think on one’s feet, and a honed creative mind are perhaps not a good enough reason to give the arts the funding it deserves. The arts on a schooling level are perhaps the last place that modern educational reform has not sunk it’s talons into - while arts subjects are indeed graded, the arts as a whole are subjective. There is no way to prove that one person engaging with art is better than another by way of essay, test, or exam. There is no way to create a standardised test for the arts. And I suppose, in this dire landscape of secondary and tertiary education, where there are grade quotas to be met, and statistics to flog to prospective students, that is not good enough. We seem to forget that the formative years of a child’s life are invaluable in affecting how their emotional and mental health will be once they grow up; even if a child does not want to pursue a career in the arts, or even the humanities, a strong sense of creativity is applicable to any job. But I would also like to drive home that we need not assign importance to each activity we participate in in relation to how it will benefit us down the line. We may simply allow ourselves to engage with art freely, to create to our heart’s content, and not worry about whether or not we can wrangle it onto our CV somehow. I vote that there be more of a focus, not only in our education system, but in our lives as a whole, to create art simply for art’s sake.