The Epitaph: Is beauty frivolous?

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This week, the English education secretary, Nicky Morgan caused controversy when she encouraged teenagers not to take ‘arts courses’ and pick sciences instead.

As much as I commend her for encouraging young people to pursue careers in ‘STEM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), to say that one is better than the other is not a good message.

And why on earth can’t you do both?

I love art, and appreciate those who can do it. During a yucky summer, one of the greatest pleasures I had was visiting Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery which had an exhibition of work by Scottish artist, Jim Lambie.

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Pretty much any time I was in town and in need of cheering up I would drop in for a few minutes (or a good hour!) to take in the colours. It was just so joyful. Not to mention, just across the road in the City Art Centre was a wonderfully thought provoking exhibition about place, history and identity with work from artists all around the Commonwealth called Where Do I End and You Begin. I was so grateful to have somewhere to go and be inspired that didn’t cost me anything monetary (though I try to give donations when I can, because I know these places rely on them to keep their doors open).

In high school, I was more into the social sciences. I could do well in Maths and Science but they did not come naturally to me and I did not find them enjoyable subjects. However, I did end up at university taking science subjects, and eventually I gained a degree which combined medical science with social sciences. I studied human biology, statistics, economics, sociology and psychology.

I’d also say that I gained many more useful life skills from being part of Girlguiding, and training in dance than I did in academics. Learning the craft and art of dancing was a joyous pleasure, and I loved to choreograph new dances and still enjoy expressing myself through dance (though I’m now terrible having been out of any training for 14 years). But I also learned a great deal of discipline and work ethic. Right now I can’t afford to go to the theatre, but I long to go back and watch dance companies perform stories. It can be so powerful.

I also wished that I’d been able to learn a musical instrument properly as a child. I’m very envious of friends and my siblings who got piano lessons, singing lessons, guitar lessons! There is one thing I’ve bought myself in the last month despite having no money and that was a £21 ukulele. It was worth living on bread, cheese and olives for a week for.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that when we go through tough times, we often find things like music, singing, photography, film or even dance in many cultures happening through the process of mourning.

Science is important.

The arts are important.

Because there is beauty in both.

And I don’t want to live in a world where we reject beauty in the hard times.

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