Roundtable Discussion

For St Andrews students looking to go into various careers in the arts fields, how well do you think the course options on the whole and the curriculum of existing arts degrees like Art History and Film Studies actually prepare students for working in the arts?

Sarah: As a science student, I don’t have much idea of how things work in arts degrees, but I do think there are a lot of general skills that any degree can bring you. Time management, independence, planning, and networking are all useful additions to whatever career path you choose. A lot of the arts degrees offer a more academic look at the arts, giving insight into history and the educational side of the arts, rather than a careers-based approach. I think a full music degree would be a very worthy addition to the St Andrews course catalogue, but I do think there could be a negative impact on the student art scene if such degrees were introduced. Part of the wonder of arts at St Andrews is the incredible work all students involved do. I would be concerned that introducing more formal arts teaching would render this community irrelevant, and limit the options for students interested in arts, but not sitting an arts career-based degree.


Griffin: I definitely agree with Sarah that full arts majors can in many cases be detrimental to the artistic experience of students. As someone who transferred from another university where one of my majors was theatre, I found the curriculum and the culture, in general, to be one that limited artistic expression and freedom, and that served to promote the agendas of a select few faculty. While the importance of studying the history of your chosen field cannot be stressed enough, I have learned much more about the practicalities of the arts from my extracurricular activities. Working on the largest student-run fashion show in the UK for two years, for example, has provided me with far more business acumen than three years of academic courses. Both have their merits, but I think to actually be successful, you need to supplement one with the other.


Isabelle: I think that Sarah and Griffin both make excellent points. The current degree offerings in the arts are much an academic perspective on the arts, but this hole in the curriculum leaves great opportunity as well. It allows students whose degree is not even in the humanities to get involved and be creative and artistic without feeling out of place or that they don’t belong. A production team in St Andrews could be made up of one person studying English, another studying Economics, and a third studying Medicine, and not one of them would be any more entitled to their role because of their degree. This also means that students who are extremely talented in the arts but do not wish to pursue it as a career have the chance to hold leading roles without going up against students who spend their academic career studying theatre.


Tabitha: I agree with the above points: there is significant value in the fact that the current lack of practical arts degrees allows students to be much more creative, organising artistic projects entirely independent from university management. The courses offered at St Andrews are largely traditionally academic in approach, and I think broadening the university’s scope to include practical arts degrees may stretch it too thin. I would also add that creating whole new degrees and departments would add yet more students to St Andrews and put an even greater burden on the town’s already limited resources. Overall, I think the wealth of student-created opportunities are a major part of what makes St Andrews special, and adding extra degrees and departments would make it more difficult for students to create projects independently, as well as adding to the overcrowding of the town.


Charlotte: I’ve taken Art History as well as some of the music courses on offer in St Andrews. I chose them not to prepare myself vocationally for a career in the arts, but to take advantage of the rigorous academic approach of this particular university. The high standards for teaching and learning—particular within the school of Art History—have helped me to feel ready for whatever field I choose. In my case, form was more important than content itself. My degree subject is International Relations, and I’m thrilled to have chosen it even as I look into postgraduate performance degrees; my time at St Andrews has prepared me to be disciplined, flexible, and socially engaged, all attributes essential to a successful arts career.


Amanda: I have been an art history student for the entire time I have been at St Andrews (and I’m now going into my fourth year). I love the art history program here so dearly and it really is so fantastic - the professors in the art history department are particularly committed and caring teachers. However, I do also feel there is a lot missing from the education on offer for someone like myself who wants to work in the contemporary art world. When I first started at St Andrews, I was doing a joint degree in Art History and Management. I wanted to eventually go into art business, but as this isn’t an undergraduate course available here, I figured taking management alongside art history was the next best option. However, as the Art History and Management programs are completely separate, I found it incredibly difficult to split my focus, and as a result, I am now single honors Art History. I wish that St Andrews expanded their offerings to include courses such as art business and communications for cultural institutions so that students looking to work in the arts could have a fuller education.


Juliana: I'm an Art History and English Literature joint honours student entering my fourth year, and I somewhat disagree with my peers. While the art scene at St Andrews is fabulous, the only way to get involved in formal visual art is through the Art Society, which in my experience has been limited to weekly life drawing sessions and a small gallery-like showing per semester at someone's flat. In English Literature honours, students have the option to take a creative writing module and can choose from "Writing Poetry", "Writing Prose", "Writing Poetry and Prose", and "Screenwriting", just to name a few without checking the actual module guidebook. I am looking into graduate programs now, and there are about five different arts fields that I would love to study further in. But since I haven't had any formal training beyond my high school AP Studio Art classes, I am afraid that I will be vastly behind my peers at graduate school who did go to formal arts universities/ colleges. I would love to see the Art History department add even perhaps a few fundamentals classes for honours students who are interested in the practical aspect of creating art. Perhaps even just "Drawing", "Painting", and "Sculpture". I believe that offering formal classes such as these to those within the major will provide students who dream of working as artists full time with the skills and confidence required to enter the art industry, or a graduate program. I also believe that it would not in any way detract from the already flourishing art community in St Andrews, but rather enhance it and even help students interested in art to feel that our degrees and career choices are not inferior to those studying STEM modules.