The Decline of Arts Appreciation

By Callum Henderson

When Jules Verne wrote ‘Paris in the 20th Century’, he prophesied a bleak academic dystopia, where the humanities were neglected disciplines fallen by the wayside, and only hard sciences were tolerated. “In the future,” he predicted, “art will not be tasted, but swallowed.”

In 1863 it was too pessimistic for publication. Yet  now, more than a hundred-and-fifty years after the father of sci-fi put pen to paper, new statistics may prove him right.

The Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values has seen a worrying decline in the arts in the education sector. According to their most recent report,  between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in GCSE entries for design and technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other artistic courses.

Studying literature, I’m not surprised. I’m fairly numb to the marginalization and dismissal that comes with taking an ‘unprofitable’ subject.  At Strathclyde, our own Arts and Humanities school is facing brutal cuts in the near future, despite being the largest in the university.

Now I’m sure our scientists have experienced their share of academic snobbery from arts students. I’ve encountered my share of patronizing scientists. Whatever. That’s the kind of immaturity that most of us jettison by week four. We realise that the quality of our work as individuals defines our success, not our school or subject.

Worryingly, it seems like those in power haven’t reached that conclusion.

But what concerns me more is this particular statistic: in 2012-13, only 8.4% of students had combined arts and science at AS level.

There’s another absurd presumption in academia, tied up in pseudo-psychological ‘left hemisphere; right hemisphere’ bumkum. Apparently you either exist in a world of hard facts or fluffy bunnies. Don’t for a moment think you can do both.

I could talk about Dickens for longer than thermodynamics, but I’m not content with my ignorance. I don’t see watching a Brian Cox documentary as crossing over to the dark side. I’m not betraying myself by learning about something outwith my expertise.

My life is enriched by that knowledge, as I’m sure an engineer’s might be from a tour of a gallery, a chemist’s from a symphony. Scientists can be artists, and vice versa. We’re using different tools to understand the world, but we’re still on the same team.

Not only are students discouraged from taking artistic courses, they’re forced to specialise. It’s damaging our society, making us too close-minded. We should all be free to step outside our fields, or else our education system risks becoming another form of mass-production.

I wish our education secretary would grow up, and have a little faith in our poets and dreamers … before it’s too late.

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