What I Learnt From My (Failed) Arts Degree



When it comes to the arts, I am one of those people who are interested in everything, yet unable to commit to any field in particular. In the two years that I was enrolled in an arts degree I changed major twice and minor three times. I couldn’t help it. I am one of those people at museums and art galleries who examine the exhibitions out of order, reading bits and pieces, and collecting just enough information to be able to confidently say that I know “just a little” about everything. It’s no wonder that I approached my arts degree in the same way, tasting different fields before deciding to drop the degree entirely and focus on my actual passion, law. 

Here I would like to share what I learnt in my tasting plate of completing (approximately) a third of an arts degree. 

Space vs Place

In 1979 geographer Yi-Fu Tuan emphasised that there is a distinction between the ideas of ‘space’ and ‘place’ in the field of urban studies. Where space is something or somewhere abstract, place is the meaning we attach to the location, often evoking feelings of peace and security. And it is because of this that we impose meaning on our favourite places as they reflect who we are. If I learnt anything from my twelve week crash course in urban studies, it is that one must be careful with whom you share your favourite places with; you never know how they may be used against you. 

I learnt this lesson time and time again in 2017. I regret sharing my favourite burger place in Melbourne with a full-fledged fuck boy. Much like I? sharing my favourite pub with high school friends I have since outgrown. I learnt that ones’ favourite place must be protected and only strategically shared, because once you share them, their meaning can be easily distorted. Trust me when I say some places (and their memories) must be guarded at all costs. 

Compassion fatigue

One of the first concepts we explored in my genocide class last semester was the idea of compassion fatigue, that being the loss of compassion over time. In genocide museums, the weight and degree of loss experienced in the Holocaust can inevitably overshadow the devastation of other genocides, including in Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia. 

However, I interpreted compassion fatigue as a consequence of living in this media crazed and plagued twenty-first century. Us millennials, raised in a post 9/11 world, have become inherently numb to the tragedies of the world. After all, on Facebook we are constantly exposed to articles and shared posts about war, poverty and political instability. I blame compassion fatigue on the advocation and growth of horrific dating trends like “ghosting” and “bread-crumbing.” The rise of the key-board warrior (and loss of compassion) can be attributed to our addiction to communicating through a screen. A consequence of this, is that we can easily forget that we are talking to a real person. And because of this, we must remember to be kind and refuse to give up our compassion in a world that is truly tiring. 

The Flaneur (or Flaneuse) 

The Flaneur is a literary figure and a man of leisure, wealth and recreation, first identified within the writings of Baudelaire, who writes and observes the behaviours of the city and crowd through practices such as phrenology. The female counterpart, the Flaneuse, as recognised by Lauren Elkin, contains an element of ‘transgression’; that being the Flaneuse goes where she is not meant to go. Seen in essays such as Virginia Woolf’s “Street Haunting” (1927), there is a stigma that women are not meant to roam the city alone. However, this societal expectation is still embedded within society, particularly surrounding the participation of women in the night and city life. Even today, women are exposed to unwanted attention or harassment at clubs and bars and will only be received of this if they say they have a “boyfriend.”  

“Street Haunting” may have been published over 90 years ago, but this underlying requirement of women needing to be chaperoned in their endeavours remains in prevalent in the culture surrounding the sexualisation of women. Women may no longer need the excuse of buying a lead pencil to wonder the streets at night, but this culture of possession remains. This is seen through the fact that it is contested whether the Flaneuse can even stand as a literary figure in her own right.