My first brush with major decision-making had arrived when I had to choose a stream for myself out of Science, Commerce, Arts in my high-school. What was a potential turning point in my life came very easy to me. I was very clear early on that I wanted to do arts which also really meant I wanted nothing to do with numbers, chemicals and anxiety-inducing theories. Things were not the same, however, for my peers who also, like me, wanted to pursue arts, but, fortunately for their parents and society, and unfortunately for themselves, scored good marks.
Our school, and I suspect, the education system of those times was infested with only one parameter to allocate students in various streams. You score 75% and above, you’re meant to be in science. Less than that, commerce for you. Arts for those who didn’t really feature in good-looking mark-sheets. Those days, top rankers to have chosen arts was an anomaly. In fact, in my twelve years in the same school, I hardly remember any rank-holders pursuing anything other than science or commerce.
Even my decision to pursue arts raised a lot of eyebrows as many teachers and neighbours could not wrap their heads around the fact that I chose, and my parents allowed me, to pursue arts when my name was enlisted in science. Science was for brained and arts was for hare-brained. This perverse conditioning was so ingrained in our acutely ossified academic institutions that none of us saw the decay within. The same infestation eventually exposed its ugly posterior in the professional set-up as well.
It was a herculean task for an Arts student to climb up the financial ladder or even the social appeasement ladder. Many of us, when we set our foot in the professional field with dreamy eyes and solid confidence, were paid peanuts, despite holding master’s degree, some of us, with distinction. Many of us eventually fell off the ladder to climb another stabler-secure one namely – government services or academics. The pressure to prove ourselves was doubly intense. One, because we already deemed ourselves less of our counterparts by choosing to pursue something that conventionally ‘anyone could do’. Secondly, if we have chosen that, we at least had to get a job that has respect and money. If you’re an engineer or a doctor, you’ve already skipped the first few steps of social appeasement ladder but god forbid you chose a career that doesn’t churn good money, you have a higher, taller and mightier mountain to climb.
On the other end of the precipice was however the internet and social media that changed the course for artists and the ones with unconventional careers. It opened a new horizon for copywriters, designers, painters, poets, dancers, etc. to shine and get their share of spotlight they deserved all this while. Poems and quotes about not underestimating the power of arts went viral on social media and WhatsApp. The stumbling blocks became stepping stones when perspectives changed and society was exposed to new career demands and segments that didn’t really need a degree in science or commerce to have a bright future.
Even the most run-of-the-mill company needed someone to make them look good in the new and emerging virtual world and only a coterie of artists, writers and creative minds could make it possible for them. The talents, skills and hard work that was an oversight in the professional set-up were now what people turned to for business. Art is slowly and steadily being seen as a viable career contrary to its previous status of being a hobby or an extra skill set to flaunt in the living room in front of next-door neighbours. The subjects that were an embarrassing casualty of patronisation are now looked with sincerity and sometimes, dare I say so, with envy.
Social media recalibrated fresh conversations around careers like poets, doodle artists, writers, and illustrators and rendered much-deserved dignity to the labour of arts. However while the grip to choose one’s own path has relatively loosened, our education system still needs a lot of refurbishing to do. Looking at students within boxes of science, commerce and arts is highly myopic and to think that Arts students don’t have a bright (read heavy-pocketed) future, at worse, is archaic. Social media has done its part. It’s time to continue the conversations in the real world.