By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
I wish my homework was that easy.
This sentence probably sounds familiar to a lot of fine arts majors because of the common assumption that studying the arts is easier than studying fields like math or science.
However, assuming that STEM is harder than the arts does a disservice to both areas of study.
“The question is like asking if a symphony is more beautiful than a painting,” dean of the college of science and mathematics and professor of chemistry Dr. Chris Jones said.
Yet, cultural comparisons between arts and sciences appear quite early in life.
“In many ways K-12 students are told STEM is hard and only a select few can really do anything with it right now or in life,” Jones said. “However, in the arts you are told to practice the arts to see if you have talent.”
Helping young students appreciate and desire to practice early for STEM fields would improve their perception of these studies.
“People look at you weird if you say you work math problems for fun,” Jones said.
It’s important to ensure that students are encouraged to explore their all their interests and talents, not just the ones stereotypes encourage them to like.
“This is particularly expressed to women, that women are not good at math,” Jones said. “Which is completely not true. We have four of our five math professors are female and they are really good with math.”
Rather students should look at what they have been called to do and what they enjoy as better indicators.
“If God is calling you to be a worship minister then you might not need to be a biology major, so you defi nitely need to do that,” Jones said. “If God’s calling you to be a biology major but you’re still not sure if you’ve got the talents, you have to trust God […] God will provide all the resources to prepare you for what he’s called you to do.”
Students do not have to already know everything about STEM fields to succeed.
“You don’t have to have a math brain,” senior mathematics major and theatre minor Kelsi Guleserian said. “I think everyone has the capacity to learn math just by being human.”
But studying STEM is certainly a major commitment and takes a lot of effort.
“The average science student at OBU will spend more than 1,000 hours in lab,” Jones said. “They normally work hundreds of word problems each semester.”
A large segment of students who come in studying STEM do not graduate with STEM degrees. According to a 2013 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, “a total of 48 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 69 percent of associates degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009.”
Viewing math and science as fun can help students weather these difficulties.
“While many of the science assignments I described may bring feelings of terror to those in the arts, they shouldn’t,” Jones said. “Some comparable terror might be felt if someone from the arts described their assignments to a STEM major.”
Although theatre students might spend a week working on breathing and relaxation in class, a few weeks later those same students are performing monologues in class.
They recite at least a full minute’s worth of words, memorized precisely down to the punctuation, in a setting where shuffling your feet too much or poor use of your breathing can affect your grade.
Theatre students can spend as many as 25 hours per week working on theatre productions, on top of their usual homework load.
Arts students may throw out numerous sketches of a single painting idea, before finally finding one that strikes the right chord.
They strive to recognize famous paintings and memorize details about famous artists for their art history courses.
Music majors labor over aural skills – required classes that teach and test students’ abilities to recognize, identify and replicate musical pitches using only their hearing.
Multiple semesters of difficult music theory classes can keep music majors up late studying, just as easily as lab reports can keep a science major awake.
Some of the belief that arts majors are easy may result from the public only seeing the results of the creative process, rather than the process itself.
“[I]t’s like ‘oh yeah that was really cool’ but they don’t think about what goes into that,” Guleserian said “[…] It’s not always easy. It’s physically demanding; it’s emotionally demanding.”
While common opinion may pit arts and STEM against one another, arguing that STEM is harder, the truth is that neither field is easy.
“All college degrees should be challenging,” Jones said. “They are designed to teach you things you do not know or have definitely not mastered.”
Many of the skills used in the sciences are used in the arts and vice versa.
“I see this all the time. And we use like practical math in theatre, measuring angles or measuring things a lot for stagecraft.” Guleserian said.
Both fields need creative thinking about solutions – an area that the arts emphasize heavily.
“It’s easier to problem solve after doing all these theatre things,” she said.
While majors that emphasize creativity may be perceived as easier, all areas of study, including both the arts and sciences, have their difficulties and joys.
“Math isn’t always hard, and theatre isn’t always easy, in fact usually not,” Guleserian said. “And I think you have to have a heart for both of them in order to study them.”
For students who choose to do what they love and what God is calling them to, however, the benefits of their chosen field, outweigh the costs.