Why Arts Graduates Are Under-Employed

Arts graduates across the developed world, often complain bitterly about the difficulties they face finding good employment. They spent long and costly years studying such subjects as history, art, philosophy, poetry and drama, then they reach the jobs market and discover that no one has any use for their distinctive skills and interests. If they’re extremely lucky they may find some kind of job but it will almost certainly have no connection with what they’ve studied or pay very much. A great number end up making coffee while deeply resenting against the backdrop of frothing milk and roasting beans, how their years studying Foucault or Spinoza seem to have gone absolutely nowhere. It’s tempting to dismiss such moans. If someone wants to spend their time finding out about post colonial theory, reading south American novels or deconstructing vampire films then that’s very nice, as a hobby. But it’s harder to see why anyone should expect to get paid for doing so. You don’t get paid for going to the cinema or attending parties either, but in truth, the extraordinary rate of unemployment or misemployment of graduates in the humanities is a sign of something grievously wrong with modern societies. It’s evidence that we have no real clue what culture and art are really for and what problems they could solve. We like to declare the humanities worthy and noble and fund a few professors to dig away in the archives but basically at a societal level we don’t know what the humanities could do for us and therefore, how people trained in them should spend their days, other than in preparing Frappucinos. Good news is that the humanities actually do have a point to them. They are a storehouse of vitally important knowledge about how to lead our lives: Novels teach us about relationships, works of art re-frame our perspectives, drama provides us with cathartic experiences, philosophy teach us to think, political science to plan and history is a catalog of case-studies into any number of personal and political scenarios. The humanities have some of the biggest clues out there about how to fix stuff. We’re very bad at a range of things that these arts graduates could help us with. We still don’t know how to make relationships work. This could be a trillion dollar business. We don’t know how to communicate what we’re feeling to others in a way that they’ll understand, we’re bad at interpreting our emotions and making good choices, we don’t know how to treat others to get the best out of them, we don’t know how to reform advertising, the media, politics, schools, architecture and a lot of the time we’re simply anxious and sad. We aren’t creatures who need only practical things like food and drinks, cement and running shoes. We also need help with the bits of ours that religion used to call our souls and we much as well call our psyches. This psyche related work deserves to become a huge and legitimate part of the world econonmy worth as much as the cement trade or the lumber business. That they’re so many arts graduates waiting tables isn’t a sign that they’ve been lazy and self indulgent, it’s that we haven’t collectively working up to what culture could really do for us and how useful and totally practical it could be…


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