How To Be An Arts Student (The Right Way)

June 27, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

As I kiss my arts degree goodbye and plunge into the remainder of my law one (if I successfully graduate…) I thought I’d share some tips I picked up in these three years of being an arts/literature student.

1. Always use your favourite books and movies as primary texts for papers

So that from now onwards, you will hate them forever. Under the mistaken belief that you’re making the process of doing your paper enjoyable with your favourite texts, you’d instead successfully be killing your love for the stories that used to be your antidote on a rainy day. For months after, all you’d be able to do when you see the book is wince and think about all the painful memories of combing every inch of the book for quotes, or pausing your player at every significant scene in the movie so that you can screencap it. Like me, you may never recover. It is with excitement that I pronounce I may never be able to ever again read/watch The Dreamers, The Great Gastby, Lolita, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Cloud Atlas, 12 Years A Slave, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, On the Road, and even Lana del Rey’s music video of Ride, which I had used to compare with Kerouac’s classic in a paper.

2. Practise running

The Arts Faculty is an old school, and we do things the old school way. Few things are digitized, and the idea of having e-copies of notes/readings/books will probably horrify your professors. Even tutorial registrations are not done online; they’re often conducted in class, where everyone will scramble to the front armed with a pen and try to squeeze their name into what little space there is left on the paper for your preferred timeslot. Sometimes the sign-up sheet will be available outside the door of an office after a specific hour, in which case you’d probably have to race your other classmates to get to it first. The best part is that hard copies of your essays are always required – last semester I had got stuck in a traffic jam and ended up running the whole way from the bus stop to the Arts office to hand in my paper by 5pm.

3. Stick to stuff you know

Forget being adventurous. Do you really want to graduate with a crap GPA? Find out what you’re good at and stick to it. If you like being laid-back and don’t feel embarrassed at the thought of shouting out your higher-level critical thinking answers in class, you’d do well in American Studies. If you like creative projects (e.g. relating fake meat veggie food to simulacrum in postmodernism) and sticking theories into everything you watch – especially anything released in the last 50 years – sign up for comparative literature classes now. If you want an incredibly smart group of people teach you about plays in a language where you think you know the words but they really mean something else entirely, School of English is the place for you. If you already know a language pretty well from classes in high school, take it again! Because learning isn’t that important, but your GPA is. :)

Also, there’s nothing more misleading than the names and descriptions of art courses – what you think they’d teach and what they actually end up teaching can be two different things altogether. If you like to be mildly surprised in every class for the rest of the semester, skip the add drop period and pick courses solely based on how good they sound to you.

4. Don’t read the book or watch the movie. Just pretend to.

So that you can become one of those students who boastfully proclaim “I haven’t even read the book!”, their voices tinged with a slight hint of pride. Hand in papers or do presentations based on “Important Quotations” on Sparknotes – you’ll probably get passable grades anyway. I mean yes, the whole degree’s kind of all about appreciation and criticism. But who cares if it defeats the point of the degree? Who says lit students must enjoy the process of reading and keep an open mind towards different genres? Can’t you see that I’m busy? What do you mean, reading is supposed to be leisure?

Also, if possible, never read the book before the class, so that you’ll have the best bits spoilt to you during the in-class exercises and discussions. That happened to me for Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods. Yay!

Disclaimer: in order to avoid being a hypocrite, let me just be honest here and admit that I’ve actually done it before. I tried watching Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and gave up halfway – the shaky documentary-like shots gave me a headache and almost made me throw up, and the material was too heavy and emotional for me to handle. I also never managed to finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my Amer Lit class – though in my defence, it was right in the beginning of the semester and we were only given two weeks…

5. Remember never to stop reminding people how special you are because you’re in arts

While the rest of the HKU crams formulas into an A4 sized cheat sheet and gives presentations in business suits, we read books on a park bench and call it work. We’re more cultured too. After a movie we just feel the need to go on incessantly about whether or not it passed the Bechdel test, and wouldn’t-a-postcolonial-reading-of-this-be-interesting? Our cover photos are always a scene from an obscure European film no one’s even heard of (no one from around here, anyways), and each instagram picture is accompanied by either a long sentimental caption about the quiet desperation in our lives, or something in a foreign language, just because we can. We’re not like those HongKongers, all they think about is being successful and making money! What do they know about enjoying life? It’s like Keating says in Dead Poet’s Society, yes? “And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Because let’s give us a round of applause for understanding these sentiments. I mean, yeah, maybe we’re lucky to have a choice, maybe many students may have been forced into whatever they’re studying by their parents or financial situations they have no control over. And maybe some of these students study what they do not because of money or success or whatever, but because they have an ambition they want to pursue. But it’s so much easier to just lump them all together and call them superficial, no? None of them even understands how romantic it is, living an artist’s life like us.

FYI, people: At the end of the day, no one’s dreams are more superior than anyone else’s. Also, there’s nothing much romantic about Emily Dickinson’s reclusiveness, Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, and Hemingway’s alcoholism and suicide.