Mythbusting: the real role and contribution of creative arts

By Dr Jenny Wilson

Myths and stereotypes surround all disciplinary groups to some extent. Images of mad scientists in white lab coats destined for careers in shiny new corporate buildings owned by SPECTRE are acknowledged as cartoon fictions, as is the belief that starvation in an attic is essential training for a good artist.  

However, other myths and stereotypes surrounding creative arts appear ingrained in public and, more worryingly, in government perception.

“A degree in creative arts as a passport to unemployment” is reprised with regular monotony in just about every graduate employment analysis. A recent media article analysing the latest from the UK Institute of Fiscal Studies [1] reports that “The most employed graduates are in medicine and related professions … while creative arts graduates have the lowest employment figures and earn about 15% less than the average.” [2]

At least they have the honesty to acknowledge that “These figures don’t include income through self-employment.” Given the nature of arts practice work, this should give us cause to question the accuracy of this analysis and the impact that such analyses can have. [3]

Research in creative arts is not as rigorous as other disciplinary research” is another trope that gets a regular airing, perhaps most memorably by US academic Richard Mayer (2001), who exclaimed (presumably with horror) that: “There are those … who seriously propose that educational research should become non-scientific so that, for example, artistic productions would be considered to be educational research studies … the result would be to push our field into the abyss of relativism in which all opinions are equally valid.” (p. 30) [4]

George Bernard Shaw’s oft quoted claim that “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches” has been applied by those inside and outside creative arts to distinguish practitioners from educators, and the view that “Creative arts research and study is for personal satisfaction and does not contribute to the national economy, innovation or society” is rumoured to be behind moves for the privatisation of liberal arts degrees.

In this edition of NiTRO our contributors seek to address some of these myths:

Max Schleser (Swinburne) dispels the idea that creative arts study offers limited career prospects for graduates

Mark Scholtes (USQ) and Beata Batorowicz (USQ) challenge the myth that creative arts research is not rigorous but argue that is situated in a system of beliefs unable to capture and reflect its particular processes

Nancy Mauro-Flude (RMIT) takes issue with the current situation for creative arts including the perception that practice based research is somehow new or novel

Kim Cunio (ANU) presents a compelling case for the essential role that creative arts continues to play in society. 


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714517/The_relative_labour_market-returns_to_different_degrees.pdf

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/aug/12/is-a-british-university-degree-really-worth-it-any-more

[3] see Ruth Bridgstock’s excellent article in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/you-want-fries-with-that-creative-careers-are-still-out-there-for-now-28314

[4] Mayer, R. E. (2001). Resisting the assault on science: The case for evidence-based reasoning in educational research. Educational Researcher, 30, 29-30.