Is our well-rounded education adequately covering fine arts?

As university students, we’re all specializing in something fancy-sounding. Every student has a major, some have minors. Some are even double majoring, getting honors degrees, etc. Whatever your degree is, if you’re attending college, you probably agree that you’re a specialist in something.

In addition to specializing, there must be a requirement to expand one’s breadth of knowledge to other fields. In principle, most students probably agree that it is important to at least be informed about a wide range of topics. That’s why colleges have general education requirements, and why UR, specifically, has clusters. Our society values a well-rounded education. We study English, math, and science. On top of that, we are encouraged to participate in various extracurricular activities, like sports. With that in mind, what is society’s commitment to fine arts education?

I’ve studied music for most of my life. Music is my fancy-sounding specialization. So, if you want to assume that I am a sad musician begging for societal appreciation, there’s probably a pretty strong argument for that. But just hear me out.

Looking back on primary and secondary schools, how much of a fine arts education were we exposed to? If we had to name a few iconic American artists, musicians, theater productions, etc., could we do it? Would we be able to explain the significance of them? Or more importantly, know how to appreciate them?

Based on your school curriculum, you may be able to answer these questions to varying levels of success. Most likely it’s a struggle, as it is for me.

So why should we care about our fine arts?

Well, understanding the interpretation and history of fine arts is an important tool to understand society, history, and culture. Plus, as most people probably know, some benefits of arts education include increased creativity, academic performance, and leadership. This is in addition to the inherent value of simply being informed about fine art trends and practices.

Unfortunately, the fine arts are often one of the first subjects to face budget cuts. Considering how lucrative STEM fields are, it’s not surprising that fine arts are the first to take a hit. The impacts of these budget cuts on schools vary with the schools’ income. While budget cuts affect the fine arts in most schools regardless of income, they have impacted lower-income schools more heavily.

Higher-income families may be able to withstand fine arts being cut from curriculums by sending their kids to wealthier schools or to extracurricular programs, but lower-income families do not have this luxury. Low-income students must rely on their public schools for a basic fine arts education. This inequality means a stronger cultural divide between income levels and a lessened number of lower-income artists. This in turn reduces the pool of students who pursue fine arts at the university level. It also forecasts a gradually shrinking fine arts culture, as the fine arts could get more and more restrictive.

Recently, the federal government added fine arts as a core subject, which is a major step in protecting fine arts education. However, as we know all too well, such a decision can change based on political trends. There are always calls to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. We should fear that if society is gradually provided less and less fine arts education, fine arts could diminish to the point that they’re not included in the definition of a well-rounded education at all.

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