In campus lingo, the acronym ‘B.A.’ stands for ‘Bachelor of Anything’, ‘Being Around’ and ‘Baba Alinituma’, among others. It is rated among the least important courses offered at university because it has the lowest cut-off points. In fact, most people find themselves in the course because it was the only one they qualified for: they would otherwise have missed out on university altogether. It is a soft-landing strategy. Most would have wanted to study something else but “you know how things are.”
The pressure from outside sometimes becomes so much that I feel compelled to justify why I selected B.A. as my first choice. My aim is not to praise what I study, but to clear the air on the prejudices surrounding B.A. or, to put it more succinctly, on what people imagine the Bachelor of Arts degree to be.
The B.A. students are perceived to have the freest timetable in campus. They are famed for holding daily barazas at ‘DSTV’, that public area outside the library, while the engineering students court their books inside the library. I have 12 hours of classes out of a possible 40 a week. If only I had such an employment!
‘So what do you do with so much time?’ people always ask us.
‘Take part in university politics and clubs/societies, activities widely considered as time wasting by the more academic-oriented students.’
So what are the “arts” and should we treat them differently?
Art is created when an artist creates a beautiful object, or produces a stimulating experience that is considered by his audience to have artistic merit (Irish Art Encyclopaedia). Arts include Fine Arts, Liberal Arts, Visual Arts, Decorative Arts, Applied Arts, Design, Crafts, Performing Arts, and so on. In modern academia, the arts are usually grouped with or a subset of the humanities and has subjects like history, linguistics , literature and philosophy. This is what university folks call B.A.
The temptation is to compare it to a science since science has recently been ‘marketed’ as the more important of the two. Many B.A. students feel that they are pursuing an inferior course. They suffer from low self esteem. They are not entirely to blame for this: our education system is. Sciences are taught daily in primary school while arts (e.g. dance) are considered non-career-worthy. Where is it going to take you anyway?
Maybe our society still considers some of these activities to be hobbies, and not money-making careers. We’ve forgotten that traditionally the Arts were the only things taught in university except for astronomy and maths, which actually have an artistic, creative element. The more scientific courses such as medicine, engineering, architecture were taken as technical courses and not academic. The results are we massacre creativity of any kind even in fields not intended. Students are afraid to try.
Arts have their advantages. They develop our inner beauty and we should put an equivalent effort just like in our dressing and looks. They improve our ability to make sound judgements. Someone once asked an Oxford University professor what he thought was the purpose of education. His answer: “Why, it’s so young people can recognize rubbish when they see it!”
We need to return to what made our societies human. We need to see why earlier societies had clear ideologies concerning life and the dignity of the human person, why logic was a core unit in academia. Arts played major roles in all this and through their study we uncover a treasure.
by Patrick Gachau
The writer is a 3rd year Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Nairobi