When I was in first grade, I struggled with learning how to read.
While there were students who were advancing to the Einstein level of intelligence required in reading “Junie B. Jones,” I was still trying to sound out certain words. It was frustrating and soon became humiliating when my teacher told my family that I needed to start practicing more. Soon after this, reading became my favorite pastime. I “practiced” constantly, and my mom bought me everything from “Magic Tree House” to “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” It became a sort of solace, and it has stayed that way ever since.
Literature is an essential part of my life. It’s why I brought 60 books to my college apartment, why I started writing and why I declared English as my minor. I could go on and on, listing out every individual way that literature has made my life better, but what really matters is how it has changed yours.
When I think back to March, as COVID-19 started to become a real concern in the United States, people everywhere seemed to be at a loss for what they could do with the spare time they had. Everyone started reading the books on their nightstands that they never had time for before. They started painting, doing crafts, making playlists and bingeing every show on Netflix. We collectively missed going to the movies, to museums, to art galleries. When this crisis shook the world, we came to a standstill, afraid of the present and anxious for the future. People were grieving, many were isolated and it seemed as though we either needed an escape from this harsh reality or a reminder of the better days that would hopefully come back to us.
To do this, we turned to art.
Art is imagination, creativity and expression. It manifests itself in a multitude of ways, such as in literature, film, drawing, painting, design, fashion, dancing and acting. I could go on, but you get the idea. Art is everywhere. It is subtly woven into our day-to-day lives, sometimes imperceptible until we are forced to lean on it. It reminds us to be inspired.
So why is it that we take advantage of the arts? Why do we tell people not to go to art school? Why do we laugh at the teenager who says they want to be a writer or sneer at the 20-something who’s trying to design their own high-fashion clothing line?
We obsess about trailers for new A24 movies and fan over Timothée Chalamet. When “Hamilton” came out on Disney+, it seemed like every other tweet on my timeline was talking about it. There are people who will drop millions of dollars for a piece of abstract art.
At NC State we place an enormous emphasis on STEM studies. This makes sense as we are a notable STEM university, but this title seems to confuse some of the people around me. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences as well as the College of Design are essential to this university, and I find that this is often either forgotten or cast aside in comparison to the money-making majors. Yes, I get it. If we didn’t have technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics we wouldn’t be able to survive. To the kids majoring in these fields who will one day bring in the big bucks, I say congratulations.
If we only had these things in our world though, would we really want to be here? Yes, we need these studies and occupations to sustain us, but there is more to this world than surviving. There is also living. Art is essential in our society and it is fundamental that we always remember this.
When you find yourself with the sudden audacity to think that the arts are disposable, I ask you to think of how intertwined they are in your everyday life. The reality is that art is needed all the time, every day.
We see the beauty of this life because of art. It would do us well to remember that everywhere, including right here at NC State University.