Readers Respond

Studying the arts makes for better scientists (and citizens) | READER COMMENTARY

Traci Johnson Mathena, principal of Creative City Public Charter School in Baltimore examines a tactile mural near the entrance of the school created by 3rd-5th graders. File. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).

I write after reading the recent commentary by David Brooks, “The power of art in a political age” (March 3). I hope Brooks also meant to touch on the power of art in the technical age of AI or artificial intelligence. I recently read an article that the number of students enrolled in English as a major has seen a sharp decline in the United States.

We are at an age when practicality trumps love of a subject and learning for the sake of learning. When I was a young woman in India, parents would be aghast if you wanted to study history, English, philosophy or logic. At the time, the population of India was nearly 600 million. Now, the population is nearly 1.4 billion. Students facing severe competition for jobs and university admissions in such a highly populated nation are not encouraged by their parents to pursue “recreational subjects” that won’t pay enough to live on. While the professions and technical majors are pushed, the arts are derided as “useless,” which couldn’t be further from the truth, as Brooks points out in his column.


The arts should underpin all professions, particularly medicine, nursing and dentistry. A deep appreciation of poetry, music and the visual arts widens one’s perspective, deepens one’s knowledge and opens vistas of history and global culture to students. Notably, architecture and civil engineering combine art and science and in the case of astrophysics; the fireworks of the universe spill through space telescopes like the Hubble and the James Webb into equations and chemical analyses. The arts also are the fountainhead of empathy, essential in various professions to do fine work, but the arts are suffering a recession, even in the United States.

Reading novels, writing poetry, essays and letters, honing one’s ability to speak well and rejoicing in the power of great art or music should not be considered a waste of time because the value of such pursuits cannot be measured in dollars. We are exalted by the arts. We need more students to major in English and other languages. We need them reading the “great books” of ancient times and of modernity and we want them to be erudite, clear thinkers and writers in any field, technical or scientific. It is alarming that the arts — just like in the India where I grew up — are losing primacy to STEM subjects, the latter pushed by politicians and parents as in demand, useful and safe.


We are not really civilized until we learn, know, enjoy and practice the arts and until we realize that math and science are enhanced and polished by the arts.

— Usha Nellore, Bel Air

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