The War on High School Artists

Abigail Elperin, Staff Writer

All throughout history, artists have held a special role in society. During the rule of the Mongol Empire, artists were valued and treated with utmost respect. In Ancient Egypt, tomb artists were essential to appeasing to the Gods and ensuring a safe trip to the afterlife. However, in modern-day America; being an artist- whether that be a visual artist, digital artist, or an actor- is one of the riskiest careers you can choose. From visual arts to English to theatre, few occupations can rival the financial instability or social stigma that comes with going into the arts. Sophomore Kaden Cox says, “American society, for so long, has repeatedly asked us artists the same questions: how much money can you make? Can you support a family with that? Can you get a house? Will you be able to retire?” Are these inquiries that we hear from friends and family so often asked simply out of loving concern for our wellbeing? Or do they expose a deeply rooted, societal disregard for the arts? 

Few feel the pressures of being an artist in modern-day America as much as those in high school, who are faced with tough decisions about college and career that determine the course and quality of their life. Among artists, there is a generation-wide internal battle between following dreams in the arts and taking a more secure route, often in STEM. IHS is famed for its support of in-depth STEM curricula by offering a multitude of advanced classes, including AP Computer Science and AP Environmental Science. In the arts field, however, AP Art stands alone as the most advanced class. With a school culture that largely prioritizes science and mathematics, artists can be left feeling like they are going against the grain. Junior Tina Zou says, “Most of my friends want to go into computer science, so it can be hard for me to talk to them about my art.” While STEM is a growing field that deserves to be supported, the importance of art cannot be discounted. Zou adds, “Art is important, because without art, life would not function.” Additionally, many students agree that managing time with the stress of academics is the biggest hurdle that stands between high school artists and personal flourishment. Freshman Daphne Chen says, “Balancing schoolwork with art is the biggest challenge in high school. I do not really get a chance to sit down and draw.” 

Another way a disregard for the arts manifests at school is through the allocation of funds. An article from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences says, “We are at a crisis point, where access to arts education is declining steadily.” The Issaquah School District in particular has been criticized for its 2021 budget cuts, which resulted in nearly 300 employees losing their jobs. King5 reports, “The Issaquah School District faces a $36.7 million shortfall for the [2021-2022] school year and will lay off employees to make up the deficit.” Issaquah High School was directly impacted by this decision, with our theater department being hit particularly hard. Junior Mackenzie Wilmot-Wade says, “After my freshman year, the only person in the district certified to teach technical theatre was laid off due to budget cuts. So, we have not been able to run the tech theatre class, which is very quickly starting to damage the rest of our theatre program.” Another significant struggle the theater department weathered last year was the complete malfunction of the stage lights. Junior Logan Burbank says, “During our most recent production, the Laramie Project, the lights went out in the entire theater. Our first show had to be lit with handheld spotlights. If we had a dedicated theater manager (also a job laid off in the 2021 budget cuts) that issue could have been dealt with quicker.” Those in theater classes and extracurriculars will be quick to express exactly how important theater is, providing community and a chance to learn and grow. For some, the joy of the arts is the only reason to wake up and attend an otherwise arduous school day. KMPerform says, “Arts classes provide motivation for students to keep attending school, which means students with long standing arts educations have higher graduation rates than those who do not partake in arts classes.” Arts classes also build character for those who participate in them. Senior Anisa Maggiore says, “Giving proper funding to the arts boosts creative opportunities for students, gives students an outlet for expression, and overall teaches great leadership.”  

A growing concern among artists is the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) in the art sector. Recently, the photo editing app Lensa achieved viral status for its newly launched “Magic Avatars” feature, which generates vibrant portraits that depict the user’s face. However, shortly after the feature was introduced, a scandal erupted and a consequential debate was ignited about the ethics of AI art. Sophomore Faith Paris explains, “Artificial intelligence takes pieces of people’s art for learning and does so non-consensually. This is illegal in a way because all artwork automatically has a copyright as soon as it is created and finished, therefore, if one’s artwork is not willingly given to AI for learning, it is being stolen.” Another recent example of this is the album cover that was recently posted for singer Jacob Sartorius’ new single. Twitter user @evergreenqveen posted a tweet calling out the nearly identical nature of her original art, posted in September 2021, and Sartorius’ album cover, posted in January 2023. Sartorius’ team later claimed that they used an AI generator to create the art. The legal decision on this matter will likely set the precedent for commercial AI use in the future. If the original content of the artist is not protected, it could mean bad news for the jobs and livelihoods of visual artists. Sophomore Kaden Coz adds, “Artificial intelligence threatens our careers in general. With such widespread technology, art is a genuine career you can follow: you can go into animation, character design, and other kinds of graphic design. But when a robot can do in ten minutes what a human can do in a day, a big corporation will prefer the AI. It is disheartening.” While big corporations may value efficiency over quality, art consumers will always like art that is made with the genuine touch of a human better than that made by a robot. Senior Aliyah Mughais says, “Robots can not depict the emotions used to create masterpieces made up by the human mind.” The growth of AI art also begs the question of how AI art should be priced. Sophomore Advik Vijay says, “[AI art] should not be valued the same as art made by a human because it takes two seconds to make.” 

Artists have long struggled for the recognition and funding they deserve. Want to show love to the local arts? Wilmot-Wade suggests, “to understand tech theater, come to rehearsal. Our crew is incredibly hardworking. You see the actors on stage, but what happens behind the stage is far more important.” Freshman Marcie Freund says, “It is important to remember that artists are doing what they do to make sense of the world more than any other profession, and that they are risking things, like money and a clear path to success, for what is essential in life.”