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Do You Take Your Tuba to the Office?

Topics: Career Advice

Art students often wind up in careers unrelated to their education. Many resign themselves to “uncreative” jobs, while others bring their creativity to whatever they do. A lot depends on workers’ identities — in other words, how they consider the relationship between their creativity and their work.

A new study conducted by researchers at Lehigh University and Arizona State University examines this concept of creative identity, comparing workers with the same educational background who wound up in the same fields. Entitled ‘I Don’t Take My Tuba to Work at Microsoft’: Arts Graduates and the Portability of Creative Identity, the study was based on data from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project and a Teagle Foundation study on double majors.

The “tuba” of the title belonged to one participant, a former music major now working in tech, who said that his training was “relevant in [that] working with others and needing to consider people skills like in the band. Not relevant because I don’t take my tuba to work at Microsoft.”

Science Daily explains:

The authors found that many arts alumni — in both arts-related and nonarts jobs — are not leveraging their creativity across their lives. They explain that though workplace context factors — such as working environments that do not encourage creativity — play a role, individuals with creative training may be limiting themselves because their own senses of creativity are too narrow. These individuals believe their artistic training and creative skills are relevant in some contexts but not others.

For example, one lawyer in their study, who had an arts degree, felt that their work could easily utilize their creative mind, while another lawyer, also with an arts degree, felt that art and law were two separate domains.

In another words, according to the authors, “Some took their tubas to the office, in a figurative sense, while others left them at home.”

Durable Creativity After Graduation

With such a national focus on standardized testing in school, there are often questions about how much creativity is being fostered in young minds.

In The Guardian, opinion columnist Erika L. Sánchez writes that thanks to No Child Left Behind, an entire generation is growing up learning how to take tests instead of how to think creatively.

“Rigid curriculums that focus on right and wrong answers teach children to see the world in binaries. These methods don’t encourage creativity or innovation,” she says.

Art schools aren’t immune from their own form of rigidity in education, although the problem there is that students are often encouraged to prepare for careers that they’re unlikely to have, instead of focusing on the value of creativity and arts training in a variety of fields.

“The way that students are socialized in arts school has consequences,” the study’s authors write. “Romanticizing the work of artists to too great an extent may produce students who take too narrow a view of what it means to think creatively and to engage in artistic work. Arts educators may wish to draw on our results in setting the stage for how their students think about their creative capacities in the workplace, both in arts fields and beyond.”

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