Two Halves of the Brain

Art – An Unaffordable Luxury?

Group 22

Arts are valuable, but can we afford them when STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) powers the world?

Maths Powers the Economy

In today’s society interacting with STEM is unavoidable. With 94% of adults in the UK using a mobile phone, STEM is not only improving our communications but is changing the way we work, rest and travel, it’s saving lives and it’s saving the world. Technology however, doesn’t create itself (well not yet anyway), to continue to make leaps and bounds in improving society we need engineers, scientists and mathematicians. We need them to innovate, build and discover our future. It’s not just our society either, with world issues such as global warming and food security becoming major concerns, STEM has never been more important. This implies more effort and funding should be provided for STEM subjects compared to the arts.

Efforts have successfully been made into encouraging students into STEM careers with 51% of 11-16 year olds saying they would consider an engineering job in 2015 and apprenticeship numbers are at their highest in a decade. Unfortunately, the supply still falls well below the demand with a deficit of 20,000 graduate engineers annually and nearly 40% of firms having difficulties recruiting the STEM staff they require.

The UK’s economy benefits greatly from a STEM focused workforce. STEM careers tend to be more beneficial to the society as a whole, providing medical health care, transport infrastructure and so much more. Engineering contributed to 26% of the UK’s GDP in 2015 with all creative industries contributing to just 4.5%. When other STEM industries were included, this GDP contribution increases significantly. Furthermore, with every engineering job supporting 1.74 other jobs, surely it is obvious that the country wants to encourage STEM over arts?

STEM needs to be encouraged and supported even more than what is currently being done. This means not only investing more into the teaching and availability of the subjects, but changing public opinion of the topics. There is a prejudice against STEM for school level students with the subjects often seen as nerdy and uncool. This needs to be addressed and a strategy for this is to encourage more young, relatable STEM professionals to give talks and inspire students.

It could be argued that more of the educational budget should be focused towards STEM. Better resources in classrooms and a competitive salary for teachers could lead to a better STEM education, especially as STEM professionals get paid far more in careers outside of education. It is clear that STEM careers give more back to society than the arts, and the division of the education budget should reflect this.

Where Science ends, Art begins

However, according to The Times, in 2005 the UK government started a £25 billion scheme to encourage primary schools to focus more on maths and english. Networks of primary schools were encouraged to share maths expertise, for an additional £2,000 of funding per annum. If increased exposure to maths from a young age encouraged students to pursue STEM careers, it could be assumed that there would have been an increase in the number of students enrolled in STEM courses at a university level.

Those students in year 6 and below when the scheme was implemented would have begun attending university in September 2015. From then on, a spike in the number of students enrolled in STEM subjects would have been expected. This was not the case. There has been a steady increase in the number of students enrolled in STEM subjects since 2003, but no spike that could be credited to the increased funding in 2005.

The focus on maths clearly does not have the desired effect on students, so why exclude art subjects? Charles Negre once said “where science ends, art begins”. Art and STEM have always been linked and this evidence, along with the historical combination of the two areas of study, goes against the notion that art subjects are useless in a school curriculum.

Many historical engineers and mathematicians have been involved in the arts. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most influential artists of the 15th century, worked as a military engineer for 17 years and was the inventor of the flying machine amongst other innovations. Alexander Calder worked as an engineer before beginning a successful career as an artist. His engineering background influenced his art, such as mobiles requiring balance calculations. In these cases, and many more, it is clear that the two backgrounds support each other, so why in our modern society do we not encourage more of an open-minded approach to STEM and the arts?Leonardos Flying Machine

The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) movement, is an alternative to STEM. Championed by academics from Rhode Island School of Design, STEAM aims to drive innovative creative thinking in children through the incorporation of art into a STEM based curricula. Makey Makey, for example, are teaching school kids about basic electronics and coding by using bananas to build a drum kit or gaming controller. Further, STEAM uses artistic thinking to improve the understanding of concepts covered in STEM subjects. This promotes meaningful collaboration and improves unique problem solving skills.

It isn’t just the immediate benefits of a STEAM education that have been recognised. A study of STEM graduates from Michigan State University between 1900-1995 found that those who were exposed to the arts in their childhood, through participation in extracurricular activities such as music or photography, were eight times more likely to have their own businesses or have filed patents than the general public. Such studies support the idea that artistic, innovative thinking goes hand-in-hand with complex, entrepreneurial problem solving.

As a country we clearly need a more STEM focused workforce to be economically competitive on an international scale, but is it fair to push STEM subjects in education at the expense of the arts?

30 thoughts on “Art – An Unaffordable Luxury?

  1. What a fascinating and interesting article. Well done on choosing such an interesting topic. It’s both very relevant and informative.

    I personally think that scientists and engineers are naturally creative people. There’s a shared sense of rebellion between artists, scientists and engineers – we want challenges, new perceptions and stimuli. On a simple level, all humans have many aspects to their personalities. One is simply a scientist.

    With regards to your article, can you bring in more ethical arguments please? Virtue Ethics could help inform your discussion, I think.

    1. Hi DrPatrickJS,

      On the topic of virtue ethics, a virtuous teacher and education system prepares their students for life and wants the best for them. As you said, humans have many aspects to their personalities so preparing students for life means educating them to be well rounded individuals as well as supporting them in whatever career path they wish to follow.
      Conversely, a government that is looking to successfully run a country, could be said to prioritise the ‘greater good’, but if this involves forcing students down a certain career path, this would not be seen as virtuous and are the actions of a dictatorship which would be a different ethical issue altogether.

  2. As someone who will not be talking a STEM based career but who does appreciate the contribution STEM makes in society. I feel that it is okay to want more children to show an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths, however it is more important to know when to stop and let students decide for themselves on their future careers. Particularly those slego have no interest in the STEM subjects at all.

  3. Interesting topic, STEAM sound very interesting and could be a viable solution however many students will still prefer drawing and sports to many of the traditional STEM subjects.
    Maybe not at a primary school level but would having larger grants or lower tuition fees at university for the STEM subjects encourage more students to consider taking them while still having their arts and sporting interests as hobbies. University now is very expensive (as we all know) so many students will think “if I’m spending so much money, I’ll do what I love” which is rarely sitting doing CAD and calculations.
    I know arts are important to people but I believe there are more engineers with arts hobbies than artists with STEM hobbies.

    1. I totally agree with you that the majority of people have art hobbies. But I also think that for a lot of the population, STEM professionals or not, the arts are only a hobby- not a job. So, with the fact that it is a hobby at the end of the day, not a career, why should we bother teaching arts in school to the same level as STEM?

  4. The short answer has to be No, it is not an unaffordable luxury. In fact I would say the STEAM concept covers it. One might say that all great engineering/mathematics is art and great art often has underlying mathematical concepts so they are inter-related. Art is also intrinsic to communicating and explaining STEM subject matter to the non-specialist. So any STEM training should include an understanding/appreciation of Art and I think the converse is also true.

  5. The idea that we should encourage children to do arts is symptomatic of a snowflake generation who are brought up to do nothing hard. The simple fact remains that a STEM student could do a humanities degree in a year and have time left over for activities. We are training students up to be poor workers.

    1. This makes sense in a one sided curriculum, but perhaps this is the point of the STEAM route. Just because humanities degrees may be worth less to the economy than a STEM degree, we cannot deny that the arts helps understanding of STEM.

  6. Personally I do see the benefits arts brings to the table, however it is impossible to quantify the ways art has helped society and thus why we struggle to define it’s usefulness level compared to STEM.

    I do think you’re argument against the notion that “arts is useless” is weak, as you only focus on maths and not physics, chemistry, etc. Furthermore I believe you could of talked about the emotional benefits art brings to society, the joy it brings in terms of music, cinema, etc.

    Overall I did like reading the article and has made me appreciate art that little bit more, I do think the term STEAM is much better for our society and our future. Art definitely has a space in our future.

    1. MR_G , glad you enjoyed the article! Maybe we don’t always need a statistic to place a value or worth on a given career path. We should just value the arts because certain people have a talent or interest in this area. Also, considering the benefits of the arts to individuals, be it well roundedness or better mental health, I think we stand by the fact that it is definitely not useless.

      1. Well i think we do.

        It is easy to say we just should, but that does not justify the point. I do think Art has a place but how much depends on each person, it is a very difficult point to argue.

  7. ‘This is an interesting article even if I feel that the main point made does not really answer the original question.

    I was slightly surprised that the STEM subjects are seen as being ‘uncool’ at school. From my experience of teaching undergraduates, I see it more of a function of intellectual idleness: it is just too difficult.

    As someone who is proud of their engineering background and grateful for the life skills it taught me, I was for some years conscious that I had only studied maths and physics from the age of 15. I was therefore grateful when, later in life , I was required to study history, philosophy and psychology.

    I think it all comes down to creativity. As the article rightly identifies, many of the great engineers were not only technically competent, innovative, curious and inventive, but they were also great entrepreneurs. If art or the arts can help to develop those skills in addition to STEM, then bring it on, no matter what the cost. A world full of engineers could be a very dull place and I think I have the right to say that!’

  8. Art and Science are closely intertwined. However there’s no doubt that we need more scientists, mathematicians and engineers to build the rapidly evolving future. The problem is how primary school-age children, full of natural curiosity and inventiveness, can be encouraged to carry this through to further education in the STEM subjects. We need the best most inspiring teachers in these subjects from primary school upwards. And perhaps we should also encourage more students at university by reducing the fees in STEM subjects.

    My father, a Civil Engineer, always said that you needed to be formally educated in the sciences as you couldn’t just pick it up in your spare time. However the Arts, so important to everyone, did not need such intensive teaching as they could be practiced anywhere and at any time, formally or informally. Of course the best scientists and engineers have a creative, inventive approach to their rigorous discipline. But the rigorous discipline is crucial. Your newly-built bridge or dam – however beautiful and pleasing to the eye – has to stay up for 50 years or more in what could be a matter of life and death.

  9. I absolutely see the need for good STEM education. There are many skills that are transferable into other areas of life and yes it is an large area of finance and development in the UK.
    However to educate in this way at the expense of the Arts is a risk. As has already been commented by others Stem itself has an element of the need for some arts understanding. Very rarely does one area of learning and education stand alone without the need for others.
    We also live in a time where the Arts aren’t always an affordable luxury for everyone and should we be making the decision on what people should or shouldn’t be studying just for the sake of the countries financial and world standing? You can’t squeeze all people into the same learning box and society would be quite a dull place if there wasn’t the opportunity for variety of experience and learning.
    The STEAM system is a more balanced look at things in light of the need for variety in education, love of learning etc

    1. Hi, I agree with you about the integration of different areas of learning. General life and the working world is not split up by subjects so why would education segregate areas up. I also think that it is beneficial to the country to have a nation of people who all excel at something and creating schools that offer the chance to have a go at everything enables this. Particularly as you said, arts are not always affordable and therefore school may be the only opportunity for some children to experience it.

  10. An interesting article. I would concur that Art is not “an Unaffordable Luxury”, but rather ‘an unavoidable luxury”. To avoid the arts is to not only miss the point that children engaged with the Arts excel better in STEM subjects but to create good and successful technological solutions to our societies needs requires good design. Why have our smart phones become such a key part of society in the last 10 years? I would argue that this is not only because these solutions give us tools that help with everyday communications but the design of the products and operating system has been so well executed that we enjoy using the product. I choose to use a specific task management tool on my iPhone, not because it is better than all the others in its technical ability but because the design is simple and intuitive, using simple gestural design that makes it a pleasure to use. Engineers need to be creative and that is fostered by the arts. As a Governor of a Primary School this has challenged me to review what as a school we are offering for music as this could be the key to raising attainment in maths.

    1. Hi, I’m curious, when it comes to limited government funding, is it not more beneficial to improve the existing STEM education than to perhaps drastically change an Arts subject like music?
      I understand how an appreciation of visual arts can be beneficial in many areas of technology and can help students excel in STEM but, as far as I understand, the government funding for this is limited?

  11. I think this is an interesting article and a good thing to think about since these students being taught are the future of our planet.

    In my opinion, STEM is increasingly more important in a technological world and with it more basics need to be taught to the average person and that an even greater amount to maintain or innovate the current technology learnt or inventions designed.

    I also believe that the arts are essential to a persons health and well being and they help so much with the “outside the box” thinking that when applied to STEM can lead to different views and progress.

    So I do think that STEAM is the way forward to change the way children think and learn about our ever evolving world.

  12. An interesting read, STEM suffers from being both necessary and also unlikeable to many children. Integrating the arts into the teaching process would be a step in the right direction, it’s important to capture that at its heart STEM is about creative problem solving, something that most school children enjoy.

    As someone who is now looking into getting a job in the engineering sector, the thing that sets me aside from other people is my experience with creative projects. This kind of thing is valuable to employers, as in many STEM fields creativity is not only valued, but essential. I can see the more balanced teaching approach of STEAM having success addressing both the lack of STEM graduates and the shortage of creative skills in a significant portion of these graduates.

  13. I certainly have no objection to putting the A into STEM: STEAM is a bare minimum of what we need to be available in our education, but A must be interpreted very widely, as as in “MA” – where Arts is everything beyond science, technology, engineering and maths. In particular, it should include all the arts including film, music and everything expressed in ancient and modern languages, with the skills to develop and appreciate them. So interpreted, STEAM covers just about anything that could be taught besides phys. ed. and sports — but evidently they need to be included too!

    What this debate suggests to me is the wrong-headedness of picking particular areas as a priority for EVERYONE’S education. As a nation, we have will have some people who excel at every skill there is, and they all need to be given the chance to show it, not channelled into approved paths. Maybe people do need a minimum competence at our native language and maths, but that will not be ALL they need.

    We should resist any imposed priority coming from bureaucrats or industrialists, especially if it is selected because somebody somewhere thinks it will make money.

    And we should be pleased that the managerialist thinking which encouraged concentration on English and maths in the hope of a surge in STEM enthusiasm has refuted itself. Restrictive education policy leads to depressed and depressing schools.

    1. I find this discussion very one sided. I don’t agree that STEM careers give more back to society than the arts. There is no evidence or argument as to what the arts give to society. What about improving mental health for example.

      Art and STEM overlap a lot in this world, e.g. digital photography. Music is very mathematical. I think the findings show we need a more STEAM focused workforce.

      1. Hi IFT, we did try our best to be balanced in our arguments but they were based on the facts we found during our research. Quanitifying the worth of the arts and STEM through GDP currently seems to be (as mentioned in the article) the method being used and perhaps this seems to be biased towards STEM. I do agree that there are fairer ways to do this, which feeds into the ethical argument of whether our sole aim as a society should be focussed on economic success or other aspects such as our wellbeing. You raised another good point- it would perhaps be interesting to compare how working or studying in STEM or arts fields has an effect on mental health.

  14. Really interesting article. I personally feel that we need both. Without the discipline of STEM, there would be little to no understanding of how to investigate or examine to the minute detail in order to find the answers we need to comprehend complex phenomena. However without the arts, we have no way of freely expressing our emotions and views on life.

  15. STEM subjects by their very nature are structured, factual and to the point. They require discipline and dedication through hours of practice to get a grasp with formulae and theorems that make up their building blocks. It is important that the skills required to study such subjects are introduced to children at a young age no matter what career path they choose to follow in the future.

    The arts require the same level of dedication to reach an equivalent level of mastery (take learning a musical instrument for example). However there is an inherent level of passion and appeal to the senses that the arts give which to my knowledge is lacking in the factual nature of STEM subjects. It is therefore not a waste of money to invest in the arts.

    I would agree that a blend of the two (i.e. STEAM) is the way forward.

    1. Hi Josephine, thanks for your comments. Whilst I agree with your final conclusions on STEAM, I have to say I disagree with your point about STEM subjects lacking a certain level of ‘passion’. Whilst this passion may manifest itself in different ways, I still believe it can be equally present regardless of the subject or field of interest.

  16. If there is a skill gap in STEM subjects then this needs to be addressed. But how?

    If it is at degree level then I agree that a reduction in course fees for STEM subjects may address the balance. But I believe that STEM subjects are more expensive for universities to fund and Arts subjects with higher fees and higher student loans are more likely to be written off in 30 years. So is it worth it?

    I understand that science courses need more expensive equipment and courses such as engineering are going to need much more teaching time and personal instruction.

    According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, raising fees to £9,000 brought universities 25% more funding per student. But for arts and humanities, they made an extra 47% on each student. That doesn’t seem fair, why should the arts and humanities subsidize STEM.

    Pretty well all education benefits all of us therefore surely general tax should be used to provide the course fees up to and including degree level as it does for education to A level and equivalent.

  17. I think equal importance should be given to the arts and STEM. Everyone needs a grounding in the basic “3Rs” but should then be able to follow their interests and abilities than be pushed down a particular route. People work better if they like what they are doing and are happier, healthier people.

  18. Good article. I agree that Stem should be prioritized over arts and humanities just for its applicability in every job. However, to completely eliminate the creative subjects would eliminate the ability of young people to develop their creative skills. This would have a knock-on effect in the STEM field where creativity is often needed to solve problems. I agree with the new investment and focus on STEM subjects but think that the arts subjects should be retained (perhaps being taught 1 hour per fortnight?).

  19. You mention innovation multiple times in your article. Merriam-Webster defines the verb ‘to innovate’ as ‘to introduce as or as if new’. If you look at this definition in comparison to the definition of the verb ‘to create’ as ‘to bring into existence’ you can see the similarities in the two definitions.

    I worry about pushing a narrative that pits the Arts and STEM subjects against each other at the expense of progress – something I think is only achievable through embracing the fact that to take the theories and technical aspects of the STEM subjects and to apply them to the world in new and revolutionary ways you need a style of thinking that has a innovative or creative bent to it. A creative or artistic mindset is simply a must if you really wish to innovate the world around you and it’s for that reason that I think STEAM is a much more sensible and well rounded approach to education than simply STEM.

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