In Defence of Arts Subjects

Imogen Clarke advocates having some humanity for the Humanities.

“All you do is make up stuff; we actually have to know facts.”

“You have so much free time.”

“Your subject is so much easier than mine.”

“What are you even paying nine grand a year for?”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I think it’s about time we dispelled the notion that arts subjects are less worthy than the sciences. Sure, we don’t have 9ams, and we probably have fewer contact hours than you, but otherwise, science students, I’m afraid a lot of your smugness is unjustified. So, on behalf of any arts students who have had to put up with sneers from our science-studying peers, let me go through the charges laid at the feet of arts students, and put them to rest once and for all.

“All you do is make up stuff; we actually have to know facts.”

WRONG. We learn facts, too. They might not be the kind you have to memorise just to regurgitate word-for-word, but they’re still facts. I’d actually argue they’re just as complicated and time consuming, if not more so, than any bit of science. Take a novel: Outside of the written text itself, I have to know the political and social contexts, influencing events, consequential events, the life and background of the author and how that aligns or conflicts with influencing and consequential events, etc. etc.

And then there are the facts you don’t know. What information is missing? Why is that information missing? Does it bear on our understanding of what is in front of us? Basically, for every fact you learn and question you answer, another one appears right in front of you. Just like science. And life.

“You have so much free time.”

Bullshit. So I might not be in a room full of people pretending to listen to the lecturer while they’re actually browsing Facebook, internet shopping or playing computer games, but that doesn’t mean my time is free. I get to choose my own hours, but I still put those hours in, whether at my desk at home or in the library.

Plus, I’ve seen plenty of science students complain about reading a 25-page paper. Why not try a 600-page novel that is just internal, rambling monologue about political collapse, mental health and a sex crisis, then get back to me? While you’re at it, try doing that without having an existential crisis of your own.

“Your subject is so much easier than mine.”

Chances are you do your subject because you enjoy it, and hopefully because you’re good at it. I couldn’t do your subject any better than you and most likely you couldn’t do mine. Let’s leave that one there. I mean, you’re meant to be the smart ones. Try harder.

“What are you even paying nine grand a year for?”

This one I’ve heard not just from other students, but from my family. My official contact hours number no more than 4 each week, but adding on the extra time spent pestering lecturers in their office hours and rifling through library books and searching JSTOR, and you fill out a working week. I get my money’s worth. I make sure I do. You get out what you put in, and if that means I need a little more self-discipline than you because personal work time isn’t compulsory then so be it.

So next time you see an arts student why not try and be a bit more appreciative about what we do. The world works because art and science actually work quite nicely together, so let’s get off those high horses and wind down those egos. Who knows, there might be a day when you need us.

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