Liberal Arts and Professional Success

Some call liberal arts indispensable, and others suggest these courses be the first cut when budget issues arise in schools and communities. Are liberal arts simply a luxury in the education system? Or do they lead to higher levels of professional success? 

Defining Success

One of the critical factors may be how people view success. It’s hard to imagine successful adults who cannot do basic arithmetic or understand basic scientific reactions or biology. There are very concrete ways to measure how well someone grasps these concepts and particular ways that people apply this knowledge in their daily life. It seems you can’t be a successful adult without having some math skills, for example, but what if a ‘successful adult’ were considered one that demonstrates empathy towards others or someone in touch with their emotions? When you look at real-world situations of successful people, it is difficult to find professionals in almost any ambit that don’t have any liberal arts influence.

Successful People and The Arts

One interesting example of the influence of liberal arts is Dr. James F Mellichamp. Beginning as a music professor and church organist, over the years, he has come to work in several administrative capacities and is currently the president of Piedmont University. He has maintained his connection and dedication to the arts throughout his career, teaching organ and performing in various famous cathedrals and locations – including Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. Was he successful despite his involvement in the arts, or was his involvement in the arts a factor that pushed him toward success?

A fascinating case would be Albert Einstein and his violin. Einstein cherished making music on his violin, and he even stated that the most joy in his life was thanks to his beloved instrument. He was incredibly well rounded, and though he is most famous for his scientific theories and work, we’ve come to know that music actually helped Einstein organize his thoughts and make discoveries.

It’s Not All Black and White

So, while it’s tempting to divide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and liberal arts education and deem one or the other unessential, it’s just not practical. Strangely enough, though, that is precisely what happens in many schools and school districts worldwide. Of course, our world needs future plumbers, doctors, financial advisors, scientists and builders. But what if liberal arts education gave us even better plumbers, doctors, financial advisors, scientists and builders?

Keeping the Arts

That is one of the reasons that there are so many people that work hard to keep the arts in schools. Organizations like Americans for the Arts work with political leaders at all levels to help them understand the vital influence of the arts in our world today and even help research the effects of the arts on the economy

Offering a liberal arts education doesn’t mean that all students will grow up to be concert pianists or the next Pablo Picasso, but it does mean that the empathy, self-discipline, and creative problem solving learned through the arts can carry over into any profession or vocation. Just like we learn from Einstein.

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