On My Mind: What’s It Worth?

November 14th, 2011 by IMAGE Magazine
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Kevin Conlon

By: Kevin Conlon

Reflective of current economic anxieties, yet another article pops up in my RSS feed suggesting that an art degree’s value, measured in occupational salaries, is not worth the effort.  Of course, as a long-practicing artist and arts educator, I respond with a familiar set of immediate reactions.

How is the value of an art and design education defined and constrained? It can’t be correct to define it only in relation to our society’s immediate competitive marketplace advantage—because such an education is really about developing a mind that can adapt to tectonic changes not yet conceived, in a global (not local or national) marketplace. I also question the starting salary as a measure of worth. It’s simply shortsighted to use the inaugural job of one’s professional career as the measure of career success, ignoring the future opportunities that will be capitalized upon by the creatively disposed and trained mind to achieve greater, longer-term results.

Surely these people who disparage the prospective lives of artists and designers see more value in the pursuit of creative disciplines than the dollars and cents earned by their beginning practitioners? Surely they know that the creative impulse, once understood, can be transferred to other creative, managerial, and entrepreneurial endeavors? And surely they know that the innovative ideation that occurs as part of an artist’s problem-seeking and problem-solving method of working is recognized as a very desirous set of skills by some of the world’s most powerful economic thought leaders?

Or, then again, maybe they don’t.

So—lately I’m thinking that our willingness to educate must extend not only to our students, but to others as well. It won’t be easy. But as someone who pays attention to the conversations happening around the world, I know that others recognize this as well. Dan Pink and Sir Ken Robinson are among the best known creative cultural analysts who extol the virtues and benefits of the creative economy.

We must all be advocates for the real economic value of the creative process and the intellectual property realized from that process. In fact, experts and academics such as Roger Martin have been examining the fundamental concepts of management and entrepreneurship with an eye towards how artists and designers think, solve problems, and create new and real value with their ideas.

This vision of both the intrinsic and extrinsic values realized from art and entrepreneurship directly informs CCAD’s future. You’ll soon be hearing more about new initiatives like the CCAD MindMarket, an incubator where we will work to develop students’ skills so that they can realize value from new ideas and new intellectual property—in turn contributing to the overall value of our region and leading to the establishment and growth of creative companies. With initiatives like the MindMarket, CCAD can contribute to our creative economy in a way that can be measured in real dollars (in fact, literally trillions of them).

The overall economy can learn a lot from those who have learned the value of creative thinking as part of the CCAD creative community. I hope you’ll help me in communicating this message—it’s one the world needs to hear.

Bio: Kevin J. Conlon became the CCAD’s vice president of academic affairs in June. He previously served as associate vice president for academic affairs at Ringling College of Art and Design and as dean of undergraduate studies at Savannah College of Art and Design. He also works as a writer and consultant in the fields of interactive design, architectural restoration, foundry work, curriculum design, and institutional effectiveness. In addition, his sculptural works, oil paintings, and works on paper have been exhibited widely and won many awards. He earned his BFA from the University of South Alabama and his MFA from Ohio State University.

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Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.

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One Response to “On My Mind: What’s It Worth?”

  1. Jim Goodlett says:

    Kevin, what you profess is an understatement in regards to the nomenclature of “because such an education is really about developing a mind that can adapt to tectonic changes not yet conceived, in a global (not local or national) marketplace”…

    To the point, ten of the new job verticals of 2010 were not even availed 10 years ago…more on this from Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer:


    In tangent, what we should also be infusing in our curriculum is that of innovation, tacit understanding of SCRUM design/development processes, how to compete in a globalized marketplace with technology as a strategic weapon that is cheap as dirt, but fast moving, and how to market ones products or services in a world that has DRASTICALLY changed to harness both the social ecospheres, and the massive data points that drive it all…

    Art and Design degrees with that in fold, are no longer just for Breakfast, Lunch, AND, I might add, Dinner…

    Well spoken on your bit there Mr Conlon…good to have thought leaders bringing smart conversation to the space!