Creative Arts Degrees for 21st-Century Careers

Don Bowyer • 02 December 2019 •

Universities do a great deal more than teaching, as reflected through the fact that academic staff at the typical university are expected to engage in teaching, research, and service. It is through these activities that higher education benefits society at large: providing the transmission, discovery, and application of information. In this instance, “information” refers to any type of human creation, also known as “intellectual property.”

American universities typically express this academic expectation as “teaching, research/creative activity, and service.” The combination of “research/creative activity” reflects the understanding that creative activities, including those in the arts, have value that is comparable to more traditional research models in other academic fields.

Canadian universities use the term “research-creation” to recognize a continuum between research and creative activity. While each can stand alone as valid academic activities, scholars in the arts often combine research and creative activities in their artistic processes.

This “research-creation” terminology has been adopted by the School of Arts at Sunway University. Following this model, the School of Arts is launching two new post-graduate degrees in 2020: Master of Arts in Creative Arts and Media and Doctor of Philosophy in Creative Arts and Media.

These degree programmes provide students the opportunity to carry out applied research, contributing new understanding and insight to their arts disciplines. By carrying out independent scholarly work within a specialist area of the creative arts and media, graduates will contribute to the advancement of that area.

A student who chooses the Research-Creation Format for the thesis will include a creative project that can be substituted for 30-70% of the written document. This allows a student to pursue a creative activity – perhaps a film, a musical composition, or other artistic endeavor – and provide a written document that is related to that project. The written document and a record of the creative activity are both part of the final submission.

Possible areas of investigation include a wide range of topics and approaches, from research about media, communication and the arts to interpretations of existing art works, as well as creative arts practice itself. A student might pursue a theoretical, historical, or philosophical approach or may choose to do an analytical interpretative enquiry into the works and practices of the creative arts and media. Candidates may also incorporate creative arts practice and the creation of artworks or other artefacts as part of their research. Research topics in media could include journalism, public relations, corporate communications, advertising, broadcasting, film, digital heritage, the internet, or media policy and regulation. Creative arts research topics could be in areas related to the disciplines of film, music, theatre, and other art, design and media practices.

The lists above are not exhaustive. Topics may combine, overlap, be interdisciplinary and combine theory with practice. Potential candidates should begin by contacting the relevant Programme Leader to discuss prospective research topics of interest in the area of creative arts and media. The formal proposal will outline the creative project and the thesis, defining the scope and depth of each.

These new degree programmes are being introduced at a time when the employment pendulum is beginning to swing back in the direction of arts and liberal arts graduates. A LinkedIn article titled “The Top 10 Workplace Trends For 2020” predicts “The return of the liberal arts major,” arguing “AI (Artificial Intelligence) will automate technical skills and drive the demand for soft skills like creativity, communication and empathy. While there’s been such a focus on recruiting STEM over the past several years, those majors will continue to lose relevance, while liberal arts majors will become more valuable to companies moving forward.”

An article from Fast Company, titled “Why VC Firms Are Snapping Up Designers,” includes this insight: “More and more, the distinguishing factor of Silicon Valley’s brightest companies is their design. Take Instagram, Pinterest, and even Snapchat… It only makes sense that in distinguishing the next wave of apps and platforms worthy of big-time VC investment, a designer would weigh in on the discussion.”

A Daily Telegraph article titled “Creative arts degrees, the business degree of the future?” mentions that “The value and potential of a creative arts graduate has never been higher.” It goes on to say “As any business or public-sector leader would agree, creativity and innovation needs to be at the heart of any thriving and forward looking organisation.”

These and similar articles demonstrate a reshaping of the employment landscape going forward – a sea-change that will be felt in Malaysia and internationally.

The new post-graduate degrees in Creative Arts and Media in the School of Arts at Sunway University are meant to capture this momentum toward creative activity, leading graduates into rewarding 21st-century careers. For more information, contact soacam@sunway.edu.my.