Three years into my undergraduate degree, a couple of months away from graduating, and I’m still getting confused looks, incredulous questions, and judgmental nods when it comes to the subject of my chosen course.
“So… what do you actually study in Arts?” a distant aunt asked me once, eyebrows raised, eyes wide in anticipation. “Do you draw? Sketch nude male models? Paint bowls of fruits?”
“Oh, no, no!” I told her, holding back my laughter. “I’m majoring in Media & Communications and Creative Writing, so I mostly get to write. Essays, reports, articles…”
She bobbed her head up and down a couple of times, fingers tapping her chin. “I see,” she said then, blinking slowly, looking at me in incredulity, “That’s a really weird thing to study, but sure! Pass me the chicken, please?”
The conversation was over in favour of a very delicious chicken stir-fry dish right then, but sadly, my aunt isn’t the first one to say that about my degree. Nor is she the last one. Whenever I come home, I often find my Arts degree at the University of Melbourne the subject of ample curiosity from my friends and family.
It doesn’t really surprise me. Let’s be honest here: Arts isn’t exactly a popular course of choice for Indonesians. Many people go for law or medicine, and most, in my experience, goes into business. Basically the courses that are fairly straightforward, especially in terms of career choices.
The truth is, the moment someone says ‘Arts’, we usually think of fine arts: the kind of arts that involves holding a paintbrush to a canvas or a 2B pencil to sketch paper. In reality, however, when we talk about Arts, we talk about the Arts that cover a wide range of areas: anthropology, art history, geography, politics, international studies, creative writing, psychology, sociology, gender studies, theology, journalism… the list goes on and on.
Many times, what overseas universities call ‘Arts’ actually fall under the category of social sciences. Don’t be misled by the word.
So why Arts? What does Arts have to offer?
I can’t speak for everyone, but for the most part, I believe the answer to this question depends on the student himself/herself.
My double major, for example, has a lot to do with writing, and I have been taught to write argumentative research essays, business reports, short stories, poetry, film scripts, profiles, feature articles, news stories, and travel pieces—the practical side of my Arts degree, the side that equips me with skills and experience for the workplace.
There is, admittedly, also the dry, boring, theoretical stuff: the ‘ism’s (post-modernism, structuralism, cultural materialism, imperialism), the big ‘fathers’ of knowledge (Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Marx, to name a few), the schools of thought these names stand for.
Combine these two together, though—the practical side and the theoretical side—and Arts has taught me things beyond that.
I have learned, for one, to think for myself. To question the things that the world spoon-feeds to me, to see underneath the glitzy, smooth surface.
I have learned to be inquisitive—to always want to know, which in turn gives me the motivation to learn more to satisfy my curiosity.
More importantly, I have also learned that there are so, so many different kinds of people in the world. That there are so many different ways of thinking, so many different perspectives, so many different values.
And that above all, it is good to keep an open mind to all of these differences. To occasionally question them, and sometimes even understand them. To respect them, even if I don’t necessarily accept or believe in them.
An Arts student through and through, I may not know what the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway is. I may not be able to work out numbers on a cash flow statement. I may not remember what the 6th chapter of our most valued Undang-Undang Dasar is, and I may not understand how to write codes in the C language… but I have learned other things that are just as significant, things that are just as valuable.
This winter, I will be graduating with the title ‘Bachelor of Arts’, and I will do so with the skills, the knowledge, the experiences, and the pride of one.