My arts degree is my professional reputation

Hi, I’m Damien and I hold two arts degrees – and apparently this means I’m unemployable. Despite this, I have found myself a highly-sought-after employee throughout my career.

While reading Julian Meyrick’s essay Drama in hell in The Monthly today, I was thinking about just how critical my arts degrees have been to my career. Meyrick’s piece is about the decline in drama departments in universities across Australia. He argues that drama provides “a rough indicator of the health of creative arts teaching in. universities.”

This post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

My masters study was in writing and my focus right throughout was young adult fiction (mostly, but not always speculative fiction) – and very much embedded in my interest in creative arts. Admittedly, creative writing isn’t impacted in the same way as drama, which requires greater resources and facilities for fewer students. But the devaluation of creative writing is equally as short-sighted as it is for drama, music, film and television and the visual arts. While I may have only published a few short stories, I continue to work on independent writing when I have time. Of course, this post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

More than once in job interviews, I’ve been asked ‘How would you describe your professional reputation?’ I understand that a prospective manager is trying to gauge how I see myself and how I will fit with their team. My answer to this question about reputation might sound a little arrogant – although I can confidently say that it is 100% corroborated by former colleagues and managers. My professional reputation can best be described as highly ambitious and highly accountable. In more than a decade in the workplace, I am recognised as someone who can be dropped into any situation, and gets things done to a high quality, maintains integrity, and often in far-from-ideal circumstances.

Yep, cool, I hear you. Wow don’t I have tickets on myself. And you know what, I do. I’m really bloody good at making things happen. I also acknowledge that it’s only possible because I work with equally brilliant people, who all bring their own skills to the mix. Success does not exist in a vacuum and I am no exception.

This reputation – and literal job offers that come to me on a regular basis from people who have worked with me – is what you get from an arts degree.

My arts degree is where I built my problem solving skills. My arts degree saw me develop the critical and analytical ability to tackle new and difficult concepts, and find a solution. My arts degree is where I honed my project management skills. My arts degree is where I learnt how to think deeply and critically assess information in order to make the best decision. My arts degree taught me how to be accountable to myself and to others.

Most importantly, my arts degree was my passion. By going to university and studying something I loved, I was able to get the most out of the experience. This idea that people now have to choose a higher HELP debt to follow their passion suggests that the best degree for me, is actually reserved for the wealthy. Yet, a creative arts degree was my ticket to a successful career.

To devalue creative arts, and the arts more broadly, is to fail to see what creativity and critical thinking can do. In planning, structuring and executing a 20,000 word novella for my final MA (writing) submission, I held myself to a standard that has been the bedrock of my (quite successful) career.

Maybe one day I’ll publish my own novel. But to say my MA (writing) was not a great decision for my career is to admit that maybe you need an arts degree to build your critical and analytical ability.