So an Art Major walks into a bar…Or Why College Shouldn’t Always Be The Answer

I saw a “joke” the other day, I think it was on the Tumblr somewhere. It was quick and sarcastic in that Tumblry way and probably eight million people had “liked it” or “reblogged it” because there’s no damned logic to what people will make viral on that site.  I can’t remember it perfectly, but it went something like this:

An Art Major, a Music Major, and a Film Major walk into a bar…

This is when the punchline comes in, oh it’s going to be a good one, I was so excited…
They’re ridiculed for pursuing their what they love.  
That’s the end

Cue 6000 art majors on Tumblr exclaiming “preach!” or “exactly” or “this is my life, ugh“. That kind of thing. Now, I’m sure many an art student has had to go a long way to explain their chosen course of study many a time. I’m sure that can be frustrating at times.
But here’s where my Just Do Stuff brain takes over and I immediately reply to the person who posted this and add:
They’re not pursuing anything. This is the problem with the whole idea of college. Make a painting, make ten, start a band, get some friends and make a movie. You’re not doing shit. You’re studying other people who didn’t talk about doing shit they just did shit and now you are paying to read about them which you do could for free from any local library.
We’ve gotten to a point in this country or the world, I don’t know, I don’t live out there, I live in here, and in this country, everyone thinks you have to go to college not just to have a worthwhile career, but to do anything. This is ludicrous. And it has to stop. The consequences for not getting ourselves off this course is nothing less than the bankrupting of an entire generation.  
“Douchebag University”

Let’s talk practicalities. The cost of education has ballooned far beyond the reach of any actual benefit in 99% of college curriculums. I’m not a statistician, this just comes from anecdotal information from EVERY SINGLE DAMNED PERSON I KNOW WHO HAS GONE TO COLLEGE. Sure, a couple people I know got chemical engineering degrees or something and actually got a damned job after college, they are the exception. But the rest are saddled with debt, in many cases that lasts over a decade after they’ve walked out of any college classroom, even if they are able to land well-paying jobs. This wasn’t the effect college was intended to have on our lives.

Simply put: it’s a bad investment. You are not even going to break even for your time and money. You’re going to end up with a net loss actually. Because if you had just spent the time on your own; reading, learning, trying, failing, refining, practicing, growing, crafting, testing, discovering, and becoming an expert in your own right, you’d be miles ahead of everyone else, including people showing up with a shiny new diploma and not one ounce of real world experience. And even a crappy paycheck adds up if you don’t blow it on crap and don’t have loans to pay back. 
You should also know, the student loan bubble is just around the corner to bursting. What does that mean? It means banks and hopefully the government will stop giving money away to every person who asks, even if they have no means of realistically ever paying it back. Because they will never pay it back. Those loans are bad. No collateral, you just sign away years of your life. I don’t care what your politics, that cord needs to be cut. The bad part of that is the damage has already been done. Debt is killing our generation. We can tell this because every entry level job you could find if you looked at right now has gotten 1000 applications in the first day. People can’t afford to look for higher level jobs anymore, in part because they don’t exist (retire already baby boomers!), they’ll have to settle for anything they can do to pay their minimum monthly loan payment AND their rent. No one can be choosy anymore, that time is gone. They also have to settle for anything they can do to get some actual experience to land other jobs that they were told a degree would be plenty enough to get.

Sidenote: you know how we all wonder what happened to the “career job“, to good pay and benefits? College happened. Once everyone started being told they had to go and the big business universities started hammering out “prepared” graduates, big companies started asking themselves why they needed to pay 60k a year to middle-aged experts when they could get fresh graduates who walked over each other for 19k a year to muddle through the same job in a good enough type of way.  Too many graduates means the big corporations win and we all have spent thousands for nothing that is valued in the marketplace of today.

If you want a concrete example, look at some of the biggest bread-winning start-ups we hear about in the news these days.  Most of them are started by the people who are bored with theory and just start testing things out, not getting what they were trying for, and ending up with Twitter, for example.  That’s a pretty good failure, I would say. I can list a litany of companies started by people who hadn’t spent years of their lives getting credentialed to do what they did.  If you want garage and basement started companies for examples, the internet is your oyster.
If you want a more philosophical example; ask yourself how Van Gogh could have possibly painted such masterpieces without the benefit of an MFA (he painted all the time)? How could Hemingway have written such classics without attending famous writer’s workshops (he lived a life and wrote about it)? Or try to puzzle out how almost every important band that has ever existed has been made up of just a few friends with an affinity for music getting together and jamming rather than practicing scales in a classroom until their fingers bled.  
Most successful business people today will tell you they started small and just figured out what works. The people who spend $100,000 to get MBAs don’t start businesses, they work for the people who just started them on their own. There’s no teacher better than experience. Never has been, never will be. Learn this early and you will be ahead of 99% of the pack. This has been one of the predominant laws of human civilization for all time and no cleverly crafted college curriculum will ever replace just having the gonads to try something without the promise of success.

We need to stop lauding attending college as some sort of instant success and stigmatizing those who choose to not go to college, to go to trade skills schools, to start side business, to try to be creatives, or who just want to stay at home and raise families. Hey art majors, you want to know a great way to afford to live as an artist? Don’t take out a bunch of stupid loans before you have your foot out the door, that’s a great start. You can live for real cheap that way. And that goes for anyone attending college for a creative course of study and for the vast proportion of liberal arts majors.

We need doers in this country now. We need creators, we need makers. We’ve had enough studiers and theorists. We need people to try without the promise of success, to fail, to try again, and to fail better.

Now, lets go have that drink.

Further Reading: Don’t Go to Art School (written by an artist)

2 Responses to “So an Art Major walks into a bar…Or Why College Shouldn’t Always Be The Answer

  • Great post — you hit so many points on the head. First off, I have degrees and I have for sure benefited from them in ways. The tradeoff is the student loan debt that holds me back from what I really want to do, like it does for so many of us. Of course education is good. But it comes in so many varieties and what high schools forget to tell students, is that education comes in lots of vehicles. Universities are not the be all and end all of education. They somehow conveniently forgot to mention working, apprenticeships, self-directed learning, and things of that nature. Until we find a way to make a formal education actually affordable for everyone who wants to attain it (hello Socialism!), we as a society need to steer our littles to thinking long and hard before enrolling in a path that isn't for everyone. Prestige is great, but at what cost?

    • Agreed on all counts. I wish apprenticeships existed in every field. Not internships where you don't get paid and end up being everyone's b$@%, but real apprenticeships where you shadow one person and learn how they do what they do.

      Thanks for the comment and for being your lovely self 🙂

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