Arts or Science - Idealism vs. Practicality

April 05, 2006
Moushumi Chakrabarty

A liberal arts education vs a science/MBA education. Which one is more 'practical'? With a daughter due to go to university in two years, discussions in my home are apt to arouse uncontrollable passions. My daughter would like to take up a programme of study which concentrates on Art, with a capital A. Her subjects of choice are Philosophy, Literature, Visual Art. She does well in Math and Science, but that's not where her true passions lie.

"I know, I am her mother", I claim during tense standoffs.

My husband views us from the opposite side of the river. He says, "Well, where are you going with a degree in Art or Philosophy? Show me a career path."
Now, note this - as parents, we both want the best for her. Not one of us is her enemy. While I want her to be happy in her choice of career, her father wants her to be independent financially, with a job guaranteed to guard her against the dole. A decent, father-ly ambition perhaps.

Why is it that these days, it is not considered practical to take up liberal arts as a career choice? Why should be push ourselves and our children into engineering, medicine, MBA or business education? Why, more importantly, is Art not considered a viable option?

In this age-old battle between the Idealist and the Practical person, it is usually the latter who wins. Visions of existing on the breadline, having to make do with less, having to travel in second/economy-class, not having the wherewithal to send the next generation to Ivy League colleges - these are enough to staunch or slow down the flow of Idealism.

I know of a person who, on learning that his daughter was deciding to study Arts at Princeton University, threw a fit.

"I'm not spending money on an Arts degree at Princeton," he fumed. "If you want to study English Literature, study at any old college."

The said daughter fell in with her father's wishes, studied Science at Princeton and is now a well-paid lawyer. So what is the moral of the story?

Moushumi Chakrabarty is an author in Ontario, Canada. Her second home is on the Internet. She's into history, nostalgia, spirituality, food, movies and many things Indian.
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April 5, 2006
12:40 PM


In a developed economy; great ideas and great people are born because passion drives the economy. Opportunities are created and not hunted for. Here an idealist succeeds if he knows what he is doing.

In an underdeveloped one: Economy drives passsion. People rush towards a small opportunity to better themselves, they do any job, anything that they can get. In such a world no one thinks of liberal arts... all that they think of is their stomachs. The idealist is very difficult to find, because idealists are highly discouraged in such an economy. But u will find idealist.. those are the people on the pinnacles of the success of that nation.

Most of us indians come from an underdeveloped economy, and most of my parents generation did suffer poverty. So when they see someone going after their passion.. the first question they ask in their minds is : "Dude, where will u feed urself from?"

April 5, 2006
02:09 PM

in my opinion, the kind of education that is given to the young in our country also plays a very important role in the choices they make for their future. we are not going to be satisfied with a simple life in such a setup; earning a few bucks that could support a family of 2-4, with decent spending habits, is not going to be enough for us. everyone tries to earn as much as possible, and tries to opt for a profession that gives them the best chance to accumalate large amounts of wealth.

April 6, 2006
07:07 AM

It is dumb to suggest anyone to make a career in arts. She may not be happy following science/MBA, but she wont be too happy earning very little. And the way education gets more expensive by the day, it makes more sense to see education as an investment. And if she is interested in Arts, she can definitelhy pursue it as a hobby.

April 7, 2006
01:52 AM

There is wrong, be it arts or sciences, as long as a person is incited by it. But what we see , hear and do is that of herd mentality.

it took me 4 long years that i'm not happy with my job. but as it happens, i'm caught in a rat-race vicious cycle from which i can't exit.

yes, economies do play a bigger role in career, but not to the extent that they change your life style alltogether, which is only possible if you follow passion.

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