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The perennial question: “So where will that take you?” An exploratory study of University of Waikato students' judgements of the value of study in the arts.

This thesis explores the value of study in the arts, as perceived by third year students at the University of Waikato. The research consisted of two phases; an initial survey of 200 students, studying both within and outside of arts disciplines, and the second, in-depth interviewing of eight arts students. The inquiry focussed on the value students perceive study in the arts to have, and also the value they perceive others to ascribe to such study. In eliciting a unique perspective of students, the study aimed to add commentary to ongoing debates about the value of the arts, and about the value of studying the arts. Discourses on the value of the arts often focus on the economic utility of the arts, since they espouse creative and innovative qualities which positively add to the economy. The value of the arts is also reported in terms of intrinsic benefits like self-expression, as well as the benefits they can provide communities. However, work in the arts is often reported as being at a deficit when it comes to issues of employability. In addition, artists are often likened to outdated stereotypes. Similar debates exist in relation to the arts in education. At school level, it seems the arts are valued for intrinsic benefits, like cognition, and self-expression, and for aiding achievement in all subjects. They are often also promoted for teaching skills which are necessary for success in this day and age, including skills in selfconfidence, creativity, and innovation. At the same time, a neoliberalist view mandates that education, at tertiary level especially, should produce "skilled workers" as a commodity for the economy. As such, arts disciplines are more often compelled to justify their existence than other disciplines. It was evident that research participants’ perceptions echoed some of these debates. Through the emergence of several themes, it was clear that students felt study in the arts was not well regarded by others. However, they took heart from intrinsic, creative, and expressive benefits of their studies. Interest or passion mainly motivated the pursuit to study in the arts. However, the imperative to find a job was still a concern for research participants. Tension seems to exist between the seeming need of an "outcome", which translates to a job, and the impulse to create something that is uniquely, and personally, expressive. While the non-tangible values were important to arts students, benefits of money and career were perceived to be more important to outsiders. Students posited this difference of opinion on misconceptions, and a lack of understanding about what study in the arts entails. While perceiving others to have negative value judgments about study in the arts, the students’ personal convictions, of the usefulness and value of their studies, were not diminished. Those interviewed also suggested three ways to possibly change negative value judgments: increasing understanding, projecting positive stereotypes, and positioning the arts, at school and at university, in such a way that they become respected, and sought-after, avenues of study. These, and other research findings, constitute a need for further inquiry. This research has by no means covered all aspects of arts study, but it offers the insight of a small group of students, at a certain place and time; experiences which may well find echoes in larger settings.
Type of thesis
Fourie, E. (2009). The perennial question: ‘So where will that take you?’ An exploratory study of University of Waikato students’ judgements of the value of study in the arts. (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/3508
The University of Waikato
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