The Wall Street Journal published an article today discussing life prospects for young people who love art, from music to painting to dance. It largely critiques two stereotypes about professional arts: That few jobs are available in these fields and that pursuing jobs that offer more money makes people happier.
Two findings of this study, involving 13,500 arts graduates at 154 institutions, stand out: 92% of those who sought work after graduation found it, and 66% of these young artists reported that their first job out of school was a close match for the kind of work they wanted. Further, 70% of those employed as fine artists, photographers, dancers and writers said they were “very satisfied” with their job and the creative opportunities it provided, notwithstanding the low pay.
What’s striking about these levels of satisfaction is that the obverse is true for other U.S. workers. The Gallup organization, in its 2013 State of the American Workplace report, found that, on average, “70 percent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and emotionally disconnected from their workplaces.”
Regardless of the field, the level of discontent holds true within a few percentage points. Only 36% of executives said they were engaged in their work, 34% of physicians, 31% of teachers, 29% of sales workers, and a mere 24% of workers in manufacturing.
Let’s do the math, then. On average, more than 70% of professional artists like their work, while 70% of executives, doctors, teachers and other workers dislike theirs. Fretful parents, who is better off?
One of the things a good school does is cultivate a rich and happy community about it. Communities, like families, expand, branch out, and affect the rest of society. The arts are an expression of what beautiful and sublime things humans can create when they use leisure time well. Imagine if we cultivated our appetites and artistic abilities towards things that are actually good, true, and beautiful, such as orchestra concerts and gorgeous paintings, instead of things that are cheap and unfilling, such as online Flash games or milquetoast pop music? What a vibrant community and life that would be. And people who used their money on quality art and leisure activities instead of spiritually cheap things would also ensure a decent living for artists.