Artists pursue passion in STEM-oriented school

December 4, 2019 — by Jeanette Zhou

By age 5, sophomore Shani Chiu had already decided to pursue art.

As far back as Chiu can recall, she remembers following and watching her older brother, then 15, sketch a new masterpiece each week. 

She decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps.

Chiu, who is considering a major in design, has felt no pressure regarding her decision to focus on art.

“I’ve been focused on what I plan to do for a long time, so I didn’t even realize that our school had an emphasis on STEM,” Chiu said. “I’ve known that I wanted to major in art ever since I was young because it was the only thing I could really see myself doing in the future.”

For her part, sophomore Anica Liu, who is interested in majoring in art, described her experience as an art student at Saratoga High as a “tough road.”

Liu started her art journey when she received compliments on her natural artistic skills, which prompted her to take art classes and delve deep into the subject. Currently, Liu runs an art account on Instagram, @ayunliu04, where she posts her art and completes anime-style commissions. 

Liu believes choosing to focus on art is difficult partly due to a lack of resources.

“Very few people consider pursuing art in the long run, so there are not many people to ask for advice,” Liu said. “I wish there were a variety of art programs because it would really help art students. We would be able to experiment with different styles of art within the reach of our own school.” 

According to course selection charts for Saratoga and Los Gatos, Los Gatos, with more than 2,000 students, offers 49 courses for visual, performing and applied arts, including courses like Graphic Design and Fashion Design, while Saratoga, with 1,350 students, offers 38 courses.

Art teacher Diana Vanry is also concerned with the survival of a robust arts curriculum, stating that one of her biggest concerns is losing students to other classes on campus.

“There will always be students who are artistically talented and want to take art classes at school,” Vanry said. “At Saratoga, we owe it to students to have these classes available to them, and I owe it to them to make certain that they are well prepared for post secondary education in art.”

Sophomore Stone Motooka, who plans to major in design, also believes that a lack of popularity for art classes results in an underfunded art department.

“There is a lack of quality mainly because of the budget Mrs. Vanry and the whole art department gets,” Motooka said. “While I don’t know of any serious problems, if I ask for some art-related materials, she will have to order it specifically for me and possibly other art students.”

While Vanry doesn’t know the exact budget breakdown, she agrees that a lack of funding can make it difficult for students to pursue art, since art materials are often very expensive.

“This year, the allotment that I received for art and ceramics is more than it has been in past years,” Vanry said. “But it’s not enough.”

Vanry explained that the majority of her budget for supplies comes from parent donations, which are often unpredictable.

Another difficulty many art students face is pressure from their peers and parents against their decision to study art. 

“Because most people around me are STEM-oriented, I feel like I automatically can't be successful in life without being a STEM major,” Liu said. “My parents think that I can’t financially support myself with just an art degree.”

Like Liu, many students majoring in art often have financial concerns, with many familiar to the term “starving artist.” Published on Artsedge, a program run by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an article titled  “Busted: The Myth of the Starving Artist,” covers a nationwide study of art graduates. 

The study, which was conducted with more than 13,000 students across 40 states and in over 150 universities, has shown that 92 percent of art graduates who want to work are currently employed, with 81 percent saying that they were employed very soon after graduating; nonetheless, the article also mentions that 57 percent of art alumni have two jobs to support themselves.

Motooka has not received negative reactions from his family and friends regarding his decision to major in design. 

“I feel like there isn’t that much pressure because my parents do think that I could get into an art school and have a career in art,” Motooka said. “I haven’t really had anyone tell me that I shouldn’t be doing art, so I feel pretty comfortable with my decision.” 

Even with the emphasis on STEM here, Vanry said that she has not seen a stigma around art, stating that students are often praised by their peers for their talent. 

Even so, students tell her they don’t take the art classes they want to take because parents demand that they take more STEM classes. “As a parent, I do understand this.” she said. “However, what I have found over the years is that it is important for students to find balance. If taking another ceramics or art class is something that they want to do, then they should.”

Vanry said art not only improves students’ chances of getting into colleges, but also it expresses emotions in a way that other forms of communication cannot.

“I was not as smart as everyone else and was always distracted, but when I was introduced to art, it just clicked for me,” Motooka said. “I used art as a medium to speak up about something and portray my emotions. Art left such an enormous impact on my life that I would not be the same person without it.”

 

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