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Princeton Report: Art as a Noble Profession

9/12/2018

 

My entire life, I have watched eyebrows raise when I respond to the age-old question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” My answer, from the age of five, has remained the same. An actor.

 

In Los Angeles, city of angels and dreamers and waitresses, this response barely gets you a blink. But in New England, my answer always seems to generate surprise and often a snarky comment noting the profession’s difficulty. For few other industries would family friends feel that it is appropriate to ask if the young person has a back-up plan. This blatant lack of confidence is saved specially for creatives.

 

But we should be championing careers in the arts, as creating and enjoying art is part of what makes us special from other species. Art helps us to process our lives, to feel more connected to each other, and to experience catharsis. We need our painters, our thespians, our independent filmmakers. We benefit from their bravery and their ambition, so discouraging them is against our own best interest.

 

Those who make it in the arts (particularly film and music), become known, beloved and celebrated by many.  We can follow the every move of celebrities, messaging group texts to solicit thoughts on the engagements of people we have never met, forming opinions on relationships we are not in.

Yet seeing art as something at which one is only successful if they reach peak celebrity is skewed and dangerous. Many other careers operate at a lower level, yet oddly with the arts, we consider only the top earners legitimate. With this culture of snobbery, we risk the contributions of those without fame, but enormous talent.

 

Had Damien Chazelle listened to those who suggested he follow a more “practical” career, we would not have Whiplash or La La Land.

 

Interestingly, Chazelle studied filmmaking at Harvard. Princeton has no such degree. In fact, Princeton is the only Ivy League school that does not offer a Theater or Performance Studies major.

 

This is a decision that comes from the Theater department itself, who want their actors to be scholars. One could argue that the extensive distribution requirements, along with preliminary admission to Princeton, do plenty to ensure that there will not be many airheaded tigers gracing the big screen.

 

Of course, artistically-inclined students could study elsewhere, but why wouldn’t we want them here?

 

All my life I have been told that to study as a scholar is to grow as an actor, and I wonder at the truth of this statement. It implies inherently that actors are not scholars. Actors study the movement of people, the shortness of breath, the length of pause. You must be well versed on the human condition to replicate it accurately.

 

Recently, I spoke with a twenty-four-year-old graduate of Boston University’s BFA program who was working on a political campaign.

 

“I think the arts training I got will make me a better policy maker.” She said. “I’m glad that I got it.”

 

What does this hesitation to fully include practical art in our education do but hold us back? Why must we shirk studies in the arts to be considered truly academic, truly something to be taken seriously?

 

This might sound ungrateful, as the university has recently added a Musical Theater certificate to its roster, as well as built a $330-million-dollar arts complex.  And yet with no concentration program, students still must put a passion in the arts on the backburner for their four years as they become experts on another area of study.

 

I hope that in years to come, Princeton will become the number one school in the nation across a wider range of study, so that we can brag of having as many alums on Broadway as on Wall Street.

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