• Virginia Tolles

The Fate of the Liberal Arts Mind

Balkan Campers / Unsplash

A man said he grew up in a family where you had only three career choices: doctor, lawyer, or failure. Another man said his early aim in life was to become rich until he began to ask why. He came to realize that he could achieve any goal he set for himself as long as he was willing to give 110 percent to it. Are those men right or wrong? Some of each, I suspect.

I, too, grew up in a family where you had only a few career choices. Take out lawyer (crooked as a snake) and put in engineer (but not architect). Well, I became none of those things. I didn't have the aptitude for math and science needed to become a doctor or an engineer.

Let's face it: I have a liberal arts mind, and liberal arts minds seldom get rich. Actually, liberal arts minds become hippies living in VW buses within artist colonies. No! Wait! No! Those are fine arts minds. I don't have a fine arts mind. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. My sketch of a house has not advanced one iota since the first grade. You know, four-pane window, door, four-pane window under a gabled eave.

Once, liberal arts minds lived in former warehouses with oversized windows that looked down on abandoned industrial areas, wood floors with massive numbers of splinters, and large department-store fans to cool spaces that were constructed before air conditioning was invented. The problem is the yuppies decided they thought that look was cool and ran the price up sky high even before they added exposed air conditioning ducts.

Now, liberal arts minds live in their cars or, if they are lucky, in 25-year-old cargo vans, where, at least, they can spread out to sleep. They cook on propane or wood stoves, and, if they are lucky, they have a toilet seat atop a five-gallon paint bucket to keep them from having to crouch in the woods. All this for the privilege of putting pithy thoughts on paper and snapping photographs that a publisher will call postcard material and reject.

Arts-driven society and technology-driven society do not mix. Rather, they swing back and forth on a pendulum. The far reaches of the pendulum represent two points where neither society makes a place for the other. Today, we live in the far reaches of a technology-driven society. Hence, the liberal arts mind lowers the back seat of his car, so he can stretch out with his feet in the trunk.

Here’s the real kicker: The liberal arts mind is being joined in the parking lot at Walmart by the old folks. The young folks can go back home to live with their parents, but the old folks can only hope the car keeps running long enough for them to vacate that parking lot before Security has their homes towed away. One can’t hope to pay reclaim fees on Social Security, after all.

Life ain’t fair! But it shouldn’t be as unfair as this.

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