When my wife and I decided we’d return to college and major in all of the most useful of degrees—English literature—we received the exact same response from both sides of our family. My brother-in-law said after we graduated we’d be able to finally spell our last name correctly. I’m not so sure how difficult it is to spell Bargdill, but whatever, right? My father said we’d be able to correct each other’s grammar and that’s about all an English degree was useful for. The intonation was that we should major in something more practical, like business or accounting. Engineering.
For the longest time, my wife’s mother wanted her to be a paralegal. I dabbled in a business degree for a while at Franklin University—took some business law and accounting classes, and that knowledge drained my soul. My parents at one point wanted me to follow in the footsteps of the family business—lumber. I am so glad there are people in the world who love to do that sort of stuff, whether lawyering or lumbering, businessing, and building. We so desperately need people in the world who’s passion is dentistry and whatever else it is you want to do.
My wife and I, we want to read and write. Not many jobs let you do that. Reading and writing, hey, those are good hobbies, right? That is the attitude of many of our friends and family, or at least it was their attitude in the beginning. They have gotten used to our weird behavior. And we have also collected around us a bevy of people who have similar interests, similar aspirations—and this group of friends developed before our families saw what we did as worthwhile. We have felt over time different, weird, strange, and not right in the head, impractical naïve. We were as outsiders. Lily King over at I Miss You When I Blink says, “I think for the most part a writer always feels like an outsider, whether or not it’s true. It’s sort of a job requirement.”
King’s comment doesn’t have to apply to just writers. Anyone who decides to create and follow an artistic passion is looked upon as an outsider. Right now, there is much emphasis placed on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, that we as a society often forget art. Or at least work really hard to defund the arts in favor of more quantifiable and measurable pursuits. I have a theory that the disdain for art rests solely with the arts ability to explain who we are as people, that without the arts we are unable to question our motives. The move away from the arts in U.S. education, in general society is akin to ISIS’ scorch-earth policies and the organization’s efforts to destroy and enact public violence upon historically significant architectural sites and art in general. In “ISIS, Heritage, and the Spectacles of Destruction in the Global Media,” published in Near Eastern Archaeology, Ömür Harmanşah argues ISIS is not an “anachronistic religious phenomenon” as so much of the media and politico would have you believe. Harmanşah argues instead that ISIS has emerged “from the very dynamic culture of our super-modern moment.” The destruction of art allows them to control the populous. Without art, we cannot think; we cannot question. We cannot have hope.
Actor Tim Daly—you may remember him from the TV comedy Wings, but he has done work for Superman: The Animated Series, The Sopranos, Madam Secretary—talks about the importance of an art-filled life in the following TedX video in Manchester.
The more outsiders we have, the more artists we cultivate, the better we become.