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Want Your Children to Survive The Future? Send Them to Art School

Want Your Children to Survive The Future? Send Them to Art School

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here at Rocket City Mom, we love it when local innovative people share big ideas, especially when those ideas directly affect our children. So when Huntsville artist, Dustin Timbrook, asked if we were interested in a guest post, we were excited. Then we saw what it was about, and we couldn’t wait to share it with our readers!

Can you imagine a world in which most jobs are obsolete? If not, you are most likely in for a rude awakening in the coming decades of radical shifts in employment. This is particularly true for new parents propelling the next generation of workers into an adulthood that many economists and futurists predict to be the first ever “post-work” society.

Though the idea of a jobless world may seem radical, the prediction is based on the natural trajectory of ‘creative destruction’ – that classic economic principle by which established industries are decimated when made irrelevant by new technologies.

When anyone can access the world’s greatest library from their cellphone, even the long-revered skill of knowing things loses its marketability.

When was the last time you picked up the hot new single from your local sheet music store? Many moons ago sheet music was the music industry, with the only available means of hearing pop songs being to have a musician read and perform them. This quickly eroded with the advent of the phonograph, leading to a record industry that dominated the last century and is now itself eroding due to the explosive growth of independent online publishing.

Art school 2

Our Dwindling Workforce

It’s hard to justify using a massive workforce of recording engineers, media manufacturers, distributors, and talent scouts to accomplish a task that a musician can now do by herself in an afternoon with just a laptop. The same goes for the millions of skilled labor and manufacturing jobs that will soon be crumpled by 3D printing technology, the thousands of retailers whose staff and storefronts can readily be supplanted by automated delivery systems, or the dwindling hospitality and transportation industries currently being pecked away by app-based sharing services like Airbnb and Uber.

Never heard of 3D printing, ride-sharing, or “post-work” theory? That’s okay; you can just Google them. In fact, thanks to Google we may now add the very concept of knowledge itself to our growing list of no-longer-scarce resources. When anyone can access the world’s greatest library from their cellphone, even the long-revered skill of knowing things loses its marketability.

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The Art School Solution

If preparing your kids for a world in which hard-working, knowledgeable people are unemployable frightens you then I have some good news. There is a solution, and it doesn’t involve tired, useless attempts at suppressing technology. Like most good solutions it requires a trait that is distinctly human. I’m speaking about Creativity. Send your kids to art school. Heavily invest time and resources into their creative literacy. Do these things and they will stand a chance at finding work and or fulfilment in a future where other human abilities become irrelevant.

Any adult reading this at the time of publication came of age in an era when parents urged children to learn a subject that would funnel straight into a specific career field. Even those parents who encouraged their children’s creative dreams did so with an addendum that we should also consider getting a degree in a practical field that “you can always fall back on if sculpture/philosophy/theater/poetry doesn’t work out”. No doubt this protective instinct was a smart one considering the reality of our youth. An arts education might promise a life of self-discovery, but there has always been reasonably assured financial stability in the high-demand arenas of science, education, skilled trades, governments, etc. Surely that dynamic won’t last much longer as more and more physical and mental human tasks are commandeered by machines and software.

Assume that your children have limitless creative potential and begin to nurture it. Assume that your children’s ingenuity is the one true safety net available in times of rapid change.

I don’t say this to dismiss the importance of any field of study. A world without scientists or doctors or teachers would be just as broken as a world with no artists. Without programmers and engineers the very technologies that make life efficient would quickly disappear. But with the abundance of information and tools freely accessible online to a generation of youngsters equipped with computers from toddlerhood, it’s safe to assume that those who want to maintain current technology have few obstacles in learning how to do so – No degree required. The same goes for any pragmatic skill.

The arts, however, are a polar opposite to pragmatism. Cameras have long exceeded our ability to realistically and efficiently render images, but still our love of painting remains to this day. By now we know that the value of a great painting isn’t in its accuracy at rendering a view but in the artist’s unique capacity to convey a viewpoint. Even those uninterested in “fine” art are driven to make purely aesthetic decisions on practical matters such as clothing, shelter, and transportation. Our willingness to pay extra for beautiful clothes, inviting homes, and sleek cars is motivated not by functionality but by emotionality.

It’s inherently human to want the objects in our lives to communicate feelings and ideas to us and about us. The constant searching for and assignment of meaning dwells in everyone, but the artist is the person who exercises this muscle regularly enough to control it. The person with creative literacy – a basic understanding of the mental, emotional, and sociological tools used for creative thought and communication – is able to find purpose and apply meaning to her world rather than having meaning handed down and purpose assigned to her. The painting student completes his senior thesis exhibit with a head full of many more lessons than just how to paint. He’s now equipped with an ability to see problems, connections, and solutions where others see only a blank surface. I assure you this ability is not limited to the canvas.

I’m not saying anything new here. These qualities of a liberal arts education have been expounded by its proprietors for ages, but with major industries quickly running out of a need for worker bees it’s becoming clearer by the day that our professors were right. In fact it’s somewhat amazing that this idea was ever in question. Humanity’s highest-paid workers have always been those who as a result of their innovations created opportunity for others to work. There’s a reason Steve Jobs became a billionaire, and it’s not because he could program computers.

An Education Revolution is at Hand

Of course history is also filled with countless stories of equally creative figures lost in the systemic grind of working for the Steve Jobs’s of the world. We’ve all known brilliant people, seemingly not made for our time, whose potential was crushed by dead end jobs after their work was rejected by the film/music/publishing/anything industries. The excuse of being ahead of one’s time can no longer apply though. We live in an age where a person speaking into a webcam can collectively raise hundreds of thousands of dollars just by telling people about a good idea. The gatekeepers are gone and they are not coming back. Our only remaining obstacle can be lack of good ideas.

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families attending an outdoor storytime with the library in a Huntsville park

It’s time for a revolution in education that reflects our new reality and gives students the necessary tools to survive it. Technological advancements will always outpace the offerings of the traditional classroom, making it entirely purposeless to force memorization of knowledge that may become irrelevant before children even graduate. Instead we should hone the skill that best ensures adaptability and resourcefulness during times of constant change. It’s time for the creative classroom.

But What About STEM?

Does this revolution require us to toss out math or science or history? Does my ideal future classroom wedge would-be physicists into an endless curriculum of figure drawing classes? Absolutely not!

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Let children pursue their own interests and they will find their way to all areas of study as part of the exploratory process. Let the child who is in love with fire trucks continue to obsess over fire trucks. With proper guidance he will soon find himself learning civics, engineering, history, physics, chemistry, sociology, economics, and everything in between – all of his questions fueled by a simple aesthetic attachment to the pretty red fire truck.

No healthy child is born without an innate sense of wonder about their world. However, this childhood compulsion to explore is a bud quickly snipped by adults conditioned to fear the unknown. The tradition of discouraging unusual questions and behavior in children is so pervasive that we have come to view those who survive with their creativity intact as having a “gift”. What is more absurd is our amazement at the correlation of great artists and mental illness, as if the battle for self-expression which artists so tenaciously endure has no causal link to their psychic well-being.

The change that will secure your children’s safe passage through the future comes when we strip creativity of its mysterious, unearthly status. Artists are not magical geniuses. We are simply people who were either privileged enough or stubborn enough to hold onto something that every living person is “gifted” at birth. Assume that your children have limitless creative potential and begin to nurture it. Assume that your children’s ingenuity is the one true safety net available in times of rapid change. Send your kids to art school and they will have exactly what they need to become anything they might need to be.

I speak from experience.

Dustin art

Dustin Timbrook thumbnailDustin Timbrook is the Media Director of Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, founder of the Huntsville Artist Engineer Network, and co-founder of STE(A)M Fest, an annual event that promotes creativity in the STEM subjects to thousands of Huntsville students. He has a Masters in Education from University of Montevallo, but had to fall back on his painting degree when public education didn’t work out.


View Comments (23)
  • Dustin this is extremely well written and beyond powerful. You know where I stand on this, and I share every sentiment that you’ve eloquently expressed. The factory school and the factory “reforms” behind it will soon be replaced by what visionaries such as yourself help construct. I’m stoked that you are hard at work doing the construction…

  • This is the most wonderful article I’ve ever read on RCM. Thank you for Dustin and RCM for something truly useful.

    • Thanks… I think? I would like to think all the work we’ve put in to the RCM site in general has been pretty useful. If not we really need to rethink our mission! 🙂

      I’m so glad Dustin let us run his article and I hope this message reaches as many local parents (and beyond!) as it can. It’s valuable advice.

      • You handled that well, Stephanie. Hopefully Jenn didn’t realize her compliment was so backhanded.
        As always, your website is excellent and very helpful. Now I just need to find art classes for my ten year old…

        • Thanks, Christy! I like to always assume positive intent – especially when it comes to the Interwebz!
          As for classes, Huntsville Museum of Art offers some great classes, and Lowe Mill offers homeschooling art classes too. Let me know and I’ll send you the details. We’ve loved the pottery classes at designbyhart!

  • This is fantastic. So full of meaning and incredibly well written. I don’t know it happens, but I bet HuffPo would pick this up! Can you submit it somehow? Amazing article. Thank you!

  • I am SO excited about this article and everything it could mean for both Huntsville and Education in general. I think our fair city has the opportunity to be a leader in STEAM education, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

  • My husband Adam is the visual arts magnet teacher at Lee. We’ve been active in the art community for more than 16 years and we not only see the joy art brings to our lives and the lives of others, but we understand the very thing you lay out in this article. I appreciate your thoughtful presentation of such an important topic.

  • Thanks for all the positive responses and shares, everyone!

    I originally planned to end this piece by writing about all the educational offerings Lowe Mill provides, but since Rocket City Mom already does a great job of that throughout their entire site I realized that inspired parents could quickly discover great opportunities for their kids at Lowe Mill and throughout our city.

    The key for putting this vision to work I think is for us to think beyond the classroom when it comes to the idea of “art school”. Although my mother wasn’t herself an artist, she worked every day to nurture and stimulate the creativity she saw in me at an early age. This meant taking me to art museums, finding me art instruction books, getting me supplies whenever I needed them, and doing whatever she could to facilitate my interests.

    Half the battle was really just DRIVING me to see, do, or get the things I asked for. Until I actually did go to an actual physical art school the best education I got was my time spent after school at home exploring subjects on my own, with mom occasionally checking in to pick my brain and offer advice about whatever I was up to.

    Oh yeah… she also answered all of my questions. HUNDREDS at a time. That’s something that a parent can and SHOULD do that a traditional classroom cannot provide because of teacher student ratios.

    So if I had to boil all of the big ideas from my original essay into a few handy tips, they would roughly be this:

    * Spoil your kids with knowledge, answers, and resources. This is one area where you can give into their demands and not create rotten little monsters.
    * Allow your kids to pursue their own interests but regularly check in to offer guidance and help when they want it.
    * Push kids to learn every facet of a thing that they are interested in. If they love video games, dive into Wikipedia or YouTube to discover how games are designed, programmed, scripted, distributed, monetized, advertised, politicized, etc. NO SUBJECT is without educational value.
    * Assume that your child is artistic even if you are not.
    * If you are not art educated, learn alongside your kids. Lowe Mill is a perfect place for everyone to learn regardless of age or experience.

    • Locally there are lots of venues in Huntsville that offer art instruction for kids: Lowe Mill alone has Huntsville Art League, kid’s pottery classes at design by hart, and MindGear Labs. Not to mention Huntsville Art Museum’s Academy, theater classes at Fantasy Playhouse, Artistic Minds art camps, and a myriad of kid’s music offerings.

      Until we start embracing the model art schools follow within systematic education we’re only going to keep spinning our wheels IMO.

  • Bravo Dustin! Perfectly written, I agree 100%. There are so many ways to involve our kids in a creative/art rich environment, we are so blessed in the town! But it takes leaving he house and turning off the tv to do so. I have a toddler than loves to create, she inspires me everyday and I’ll never complain about the expense or time/distance it takes to take painting classes at hobby lobby, music and theater at the children’s playhouse or anything else she wants to do. I’m continually inspired by her and I was her to be continuously inspired by her surroundings. Thanks again for the beautifully written article.
    P.s. I love the drawing withh Betty in it too 🙂

  • Our kids attend a Montessori school for the reasons pointed out in this article. We want them to learn to love learning for the sake of learning, be inventive and recognize the value of all human endeavors whether it be art, science, nature or traditional academics.

  • This article provides a lot of food for thought…I went to Montessori schools, traditional schools, and was also homeschooled. Like Dustin, I was exposed by my intellectually curious mother to all sorts creative and artistic experiences. Also like Dustin, I am a professional artist and proponent of change in education. However, I did not go to art school and have a bone to pick with this advice. STEM careers are still in demand and will be for a long time…and I know far too many under-employed art graduates. Even as a German major with an extensive background in languages, art, and music, most employers were not interested in me. I struck out on my own and found far more success…but the amount of effort and focus I have and continue to put into forging ahead in my career is more than most people I know can muster. (I love my career, mind you…but I truly am a dedicated workaholic.) I find that the most successful arts professionals are freelancers– many jobs in the arts are disappearing, sad as I am to say it. I think creativity and arts appreciation should be stressed more in schools and I advocate alternative methods such as the Montessori approach, but creativity can be stressed in any field, not merely art. Sending more students to art school might make people more accepting of the arts, but it will hardly make students more qualified for the jobs of the future or more capable of taking charge of their destinies. A strong background in humanities, hands-on experiences of all kinds, encouragement to specialize and delve deeply into any field that motivates them to work hard, encouragement to make a broad circle of successful friends, and good co-op programs are more likely to solve the problem in my estimation.

    • Based on everything you’ve written above (which I agree with) I think the only bone you have to pick is with my headline, which shouldn’t be interpreted so literally.

      • Thank you for clarifying…I wasn’t entirely sure how literal you intended that headline to be. I also wondered whether you really thought STEM jobs were disappearing, or simply STEM jobs as we know them. A new world of biotech, robotics, 3-D modeling, coding, and digital services seems to be opening up that will require extremely specialized training, no? I think we’re basically on the same page though…I read your article out loud to my Mom and we had a thorough discussion about education, creativity, and a culture of appreciation for arts afterward.

        • I call THAT a win! ^^^
          We need more artists, engineers, and educators having those kinds of conversations in their kitchen, offices, break rooms, studios, and ultimately arenas of influence like school board meetings.

  • Well said, Dustin! I hope our education system as a whole will begin to shift to a more open, exploratory, and creative style of learning! I love living in a city where there are so many opportunities to let my children explore their creative side. I did not attend art school, but in some ways wish that I had, because I only used my degree about 3 years after graduation. I have always been creative but was never in an environment where I felt confident that my creativity had any real worth. Thankfully, now that I have been exposed to such an art centered community at Lowe Mill and in Huntsville, I have decided to take a leap of faith and share it in a way with others. This weekend at Lowe Mill, I will be starting to lead a babies to children art workshop called Jellybeanstreet where we lead the children in many different art activities to engage their creativity and afterwards our graphic artists transform their paintings into a fine art piece that is then sold in our online gallery with 40-60% of profits benefiting a children’s charity chosen by the child. I am so excited to be putting my creativity to use to provide another outlet for children to explore their artistic side! Check us out on our Facebook page: Jellybeanstreet Alabama or book a workshop at

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