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Aug 06 2017
by Emily Carpenter

Why Pursuing a Major in the Arts Doesn't Reduce My Intelligence

By Emily Carpenter - Aug 06 2017
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“So are you still at the same job?” my dad asks, catching up with the uncle that we haven’t seen in years.

“Yeah. I hate it.” He turns to me and my sister and advises, “Do what you love. Don’t do something because it’ll make you money.”

Minutes pass and sentences are exchanged when he then mentions that, like me, his nephew is also soon to be starting college in New York City. “He’s majoring in psychology,” he says with an eye roll. “Don’t know what he’s gonna do with that, but…”

I understand all too well the stigma that comes with being a non-STEM major, and a part of me becomes defensive on this stranger’s behalf. I say, only half-jokingly, “Well if that ever bothers you too much, just know that I’m a theatre major and all should be forgiven on his part.”

I watch his face distort into the disapproval and the internal yet inaudible shock I’ve seen so many times before. Ah yes, another person, appalled at my decisions. The decisions that aren’t theirs. “Go ahead and say it, I’ve heard it all already.” I’m chuckling, but my tone has become more brazen at the new understanding that his initial advice clearly held no matter.

“I just… I’m surprised, you were always kind of the brainiac. Math and all that.” Again, this reaction is nothing new to me. The blatant condemnation of my career choice weakly disguised as a compliment is a tale as old as time, and I respond to it the way I always do. Outwardly, I brush it off by saying I’m considering a minor in mathematics (which is not untrue) and hope to change the subject. Internally, I feel a pang of doubt. Am I making the right decision?

For years, many of the people in my life silently disapproved of my desire to pursue theatre as a college major and career. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times members of my extended family have told me that I’m “too bright." They watched me read chapter books before anyone else in my class and begin algebra in seventh grade. They listened to my parents brag about my test scores and gave me gift cards to bookstores for my birthday. I’ve always had a great capacity to learn and a true love of it. Would I be better off using calculus or physics to build a career that will actually pay the bills? I wish I could say that I always feel assured in my passion and unwavering in my choices, but it’s hard to be resolute when multitudes of people are advising me otherwise.

Many say that the arts aren’t worth going to college for because you shouldn’t spend money on a field that won’t pay out in return. Not only have members of my family warned me of this, but also my friends and fellow castmates. The same people that volunteer hundreds of hours with me to perform in community theatre tell me it shouldn’t be anything more than a hobby. Even the people that pursue a degree in theatre from the college in my hometown support my choice of major, but still scoff at my university’s high price tag and tell me it isn’t worth it. Despite the hypocrisy, sometimes I start to believe them. It isn’t a secret that working professionally in the arts is a heavy undertaking. It can be difficult to be successful, if your definition of success is making large sums of money. Fortunately for me, despite the random moments of minor doubt, I ultimately feel like there was never any other choice for me to make, as my definition of success is doing what I love.

I achieved academically for 12 years of school, but I also spent six of those years in and out of rehearsals every night. Sometimes on weekdays, I would go straight from class to a rehearsal in school, to another rehearsal at my community theater and perform in a different show on the weekends. I spent thousands of hours singing, acting and dancing, and within that time, I found a passion. I did well in school because I had to and because I liked it, but I gave up sleep and a social life for theatre because I wanted to and because I loved it. I discovered that nothing makes me happier than inspiring others through performance, and I don’t ever feel more at home than when I’m giving it my all onstage. I want to do that forever.

The naysayers are right when they say I’m “too bright.” I’m too bright to let myself settle for a career that won’t fulfill me. I’m too bright to let anyone say that it isn’t a mental challenge to create a story and tell it to an audience. I’m too bright to believe that art doesn’t have a powerful and lasting effect on people. I’m too bright to say that I’m any more noble or brave than anyone pursuing a career in a field that pays well. I’m too bright to tell others they’re making the wrong choices for throwing themselves into their passion, no matter what that is. I’m too bright to not do what I love.

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Emily Carpenter - New York University

Tisch student at New York University. I do theatre and teach it to small kiddos. Top credentials include Board Game Club President and "Most Likely to Do Anything For a Like or Retweet". Here are my words!

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