Many people, including myself, have argued that it is important to include an enhanced focus (or even a focus at all) on the arts within a curriculum that is focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In other words, the focus on STEM should be expanded to be STEAM. Even with these arguments being made, there has been a relatively recent movement to minimize the importance of a liberal arts education across some states. For example, the governors of both Kentucky and North Carolina have made such proposals.
I think this is a grave mistake. To be upfront, I received my bachelor’s degree from a small liberal arts college, and I am currently an associate professor of economics at a liberal arts university. Thus, I admittedly may be biased. But based on my experience, I know that my liberal arts education allowed me to achieve a deeper understanding and view problems from different perspectives. And in my work with artists on various projects and through my teaching of arts students, I know that they see the world from a different perspective that allows them to approach problems from varied angles.
I think J. Bradford Hipps discusses this very eloquently in his New York Times article, “To Write Software, Read Novels,” published in the May 22 paper edition (published May 21 online under the title “To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf“). In the article, he provides examples where liberal arts graduates working within technology companies applied their abilities to “see” things differently to solve problems that the “techies” were finding to be intractable.
This is not arts for arts sake. This is arts for the economy’s sake.
I am confident that if we continue down this path of gutting liberal arts education from Pre-kindergarten through university, our economy is going to suffer because we will severely diminish the productive abilities of our labor force.
Alan Shipnuck recently wrote a fascinating article about Bryson DeChambeau, one of the world’s best amateur golfers, who will soon be taking the PGA Tour by storm. In my opinion, the article is fascinating for several reasons, but one quote in the article from Mr. DeChambeau really stood out to me.
“‘…Playing is not about swing theory. When you’re on the course, you have to be an artist.’ DeChambeau can sign his name left-handed, in cursive, upside down. On his bedroom wall is a stippling drawing of his hero, Ben Hogan, that took him four months to create. In 2015 he finally brought this same artistic flair between the ropes, winning the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur. Only four other players can claim this double-dip in the same year: Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Ryan Moore.”
I have long argued that it is very important to have the arts as a core part of the educational curriculum at all levels because even if the person is not going to become an artist, the arts teaches us to “see” things differently. It trains us to approach problems and issues from a different perspective. That is why this part of the article stood out to me. Bryson took a very scientific approach to building his swing and his golf clubs. He majored in physics while at SMU and probably understands the physics and mechanics of the golf swing as well as anyone, but it was not until he realized to be an “artist” on the course did he attain the highest levels of amateur golf. He is now poised for a very successful pro career. Golf constantly presents you with new challenges on the course that you have to address very quickly, so being able to see different ways to address these challenges through the different shots one can make is very important. In other words, art is great training for even some of the top athletes in the world.
I recently presented the updated economic impact of the creative industry in San Antonio at the Tobin Center. The measured impacts are for 2014. The presentation can be found here, but in brief the industry has shown steady increases across all measures from 2012 through 2014. As of 2014, the industry, employs 21,736 people who earn over $1 billion in wages. The total estimated output of the industry in 2014 was $4.3 billion. These numbers do not include any multiplier effects. This industry, maybe more than any other industry, registers an impact far beyond its standard economic impacts as previously mentioned because of its “artistic dividend.” This is a concept coined by Ann Markusen and David King to capture the productivity enhancements and economic growth that would not occur were it not for the presence of artists and other creative workers in the area. So, besides the rather large impact the industry directly has on employment, income, and output, it is a very important industry to the development of San Antonio’s economy because of the productivity improvements it provides to every other industry. \
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) recently released new data on arts and cultural production for 2012. While there is a lag in the release of the data, it is exciting that they are providing such data in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to the BEA: “Nominal value added from all arts and cultural production (ACP) industries – a measure of this sector’s contribution to gross domestic product – increased 3.8 percent, or $25.8 billion in 2012, according to new statistics released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Value added accounted for 4.3 percent, or $698.7 billion, of GDP.” (Source: http://bea.gov/newsreleases/general/acpsa/acpsa0115.pdf)
Of the core arts and cultural production industries, the top five by value added (contribution to GDP) were:
- Advertising ($29,289 million)
- Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers ($19,297 million)
- Performing Arts ($16,116 million)
- Architectural Services ($13,910 million)
- Photography and Photofinishing Services ($8,045 million)
The core arts and cultural production contributed $129,011 million to GDP, while the supporting arts and cultural production industries contributed $547,003 million, and all other industries that have secondary production designated as artistic and cultural production contributed $22,681 million.
Total arts and cultural production amounted to 4,676.4 thousand jobs in 2012 with core arts and cultural production accounting for 956.4 thousand of those jobs. The supporting arts and cultural production industries employed 3,537.4 thousand, and all other industries contributed 182.6 thousand jobs. Interestingly, total employment continues to decline since the 2007. The core arts and production industries showed employment growth in 2011 and 2012, but the supporting arts and cultural production industries have seen declines employment in each year since 2007. I am not sure what is driving this dichotomy, but maybe the core arts and cultural industries are bringing some of the support work in-house causing a decline in employment in the supporting arts and cultural industries.
I recently went with my wife and one of my daughters to see the Intimate Impressionism exhibit at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. It was a fascinating exhibit, and I was in awe by many of the paintings. My favorites, in no particular order, were:
- “Yacht Basin at Trouville-Deauville” by Eugene Bodin
- “Picking Flowers” by Auguste Renoir
- “Meadow” by Alfred Sisley
- “Boulevard Heloise, Argenteuil” by Alfred Sisley
- “Argenteuil” by Claude Monet
- “Still Life with Grapes and a Carnation” by Henri Fantin-Latour
- “Peaches on a Plate” by Auguste Renoir
- “Concert at the Casino of Deauville” by Eugene Bodin
- “Festival in the Harbor of Honfleur” by Eugene Bodin
The one that made me say, “Wow” upon first seeing it was Renoir’s “Picking Flowers”, so it has to be considered my top pick on the list.
Almost as fun and fascinating as seeing the art was overhearing the various conversations people were having about the paintings. They ranged from, “Those oysters sure look tasty”, to rather in-depth discussions about what the artist was actually trying to portray or might be thinking at the time. It was a clear example of the role the arts and museums on the economy. From the looks of bumper stickers on some of the cars, it appeared that the exhibit did attract visitors from Austin and other areas outside San Antonio, but the more profound impacts, in my opinion, are the enhanced quality of life and the creative inspiration it provided many of those who saw the exhibit. While the ability of an art exhibit to attract visitors to the area is important, It is the impacts to quality of life and the inspiration they provide that attract the skilled, creative workers in all industries to a region, and it is exactly why the arts are so important to the continued development of a regional economy.