Is Arts Easier?
Words by Kathryn Simons
Are Arts degrees easier than other degrees? As an Arts student myself, this idea has irritated me since the beginning of my degree, but lately I’ve been wondering whether there might actually be some truth in it. Arts might actually be easier, but not necessarily for the reasons you think.
Less contact hours, few to no exams, flexible structure with few core subjects, it’s easy to see why Arts students are told we’re “lucky.” The perception of ease is intensified by the fact that Arts is known as the degree you fall into when you have no clue what you want to do.
However, there’s a flipside to everything. Fewer contact hours require more self-motivation to get your readings done for class and work on your assessments so you get them in on time. Few to no exams mean you have multiple important assessments throughout the semester requiring you to undertake research and come up with new, convincing arguments. While there isn’t the stress of exams to worry about, the constant stream of assessments is exhausting.
Yet, why is it that students from other disciplines who take Arts electives are able to achieve better grades, easier than in their normal subjects? Why is it easier to pass an Arts subject without trying very hard? In Arts there is no right or wrong answer like you might find in another discipline. This subjectivity means as long as you put together a somewhat coherent argument that fulfils the base assessment requirements, your tutor is likely to pass you. It also gives you a lot of freedom to think and create ideas in whatever direction you choose. Subjectivity might be one possible reason, but could it be humans are just more naturally inclined to the creative as opposed to the scientific? It took thousands of years to develop the scientific disciplines as we know them today, yet we have been using the creative and analytical skills taught in Arts to try and understand our world since time immemorial. This could explain why so many people fear subjects like maths but feel freedom in creative subjects.
Not everyone will find the relative freedom of Arts assignments a positive and most of us, in the midst of stress, will wish we were doing the opposite kind of assessment. So if it is too subjective and personal to say definitely, does it matter if Arts is considered easier? I think it does. If we automatically assume Arts is inherently easier, not only do we run the risk of making someone feel bad about finding it difficult, we reinforce an idea without assessing the repercussions. This idea that Arts is easier has an underlying implication that it is also, to some degree, unimportant. Because when something is considered easy it tends to also be considered less important and less worthwhile than whatever is considered difficult.
Arts also doesn’t lead to a set profession, thus it may be seen as less practical than other degrees. Much like the attitude towards the arts in general, the pursuit of an Arts degree is acceptable only in past tense, as a background to those already established. It is not seen as useful in itself. Art History, Literature, History, Classics, Music, Language, all of the subjects taught in the Arts are things that impact our lives daily. They have shaped who we are as a society, who we will be and help us understand the world we live in. We benefit endlessly from these subjects but treat the pursuit of understanding them, engaging with them and creating them with either little respect or as the acceptable pursuit of a special, “talented” few. Those “transferable skills” lecturers have to use to justify their courses are so much more than a skillset for a job. The ability to consider and analyse something beyond its face-value, to read texts, histories and art through different lenses and to make arguments based on research makes us — I would argue — more openminded, less judgmental and more empathetic. Arts isn’t about getting a job, but that doesn’t mean its teachings aren’t valuable.
Is Arts easier? Ultimately the answer depends entirely on what you find difficult in studying, but its ease does not make it easy nor less worthy of study. This misunderstanding about the value of Arts education and arts, in general, tells us more about how we value art in society than it does about whether Arts is easier or not. Until we value the role art plays in our lives and the things it teaches us, Arts degrees will continue to be seen as easier.