The Value of the Liberal Arts Education


Steve Jobs lived at the intersection of Art and Technology. He earned billions of dollars, but his life’s real aim was simply to find satisfaction creating revolutionary tools that combined the best science with the highest esthetic.

Jobs did it without finishing college, but, for those of us who are not quite geniuses, a liberal arts education provides a way to reach, not just the corner of Art and Technology, but a virtual Arc de Triomphe where many roads converge—Music and Math, Philosophy and Physics, History and Horticulture, Geology and Geography, Creative Writing and Chemistry, English and Economics.

For me, circling through that convergence was the best thing I could do to prepare for a career as an opinion journalist. But I did not enter the University of Washington knowing what my life’s work would be. And that raises a point missed by the many people who believe high school graduates should just be on a fast track to a job.

Most 18-year-olds have no more than an inkling about what they want to do with their lives. At that age, I knew I was pretty good at art, but also that I was fascinated by history and literature and politics. If I had gone off to some art institute to study graphic design, it would have been a disaster. I could draw pretty well, but I was no prodigy. My real talent is in reducing complex issues to their essence and then using words and visual metaphors to explain that essence.

I had only a small clue that I could do that when I arrived on campus. My immersion in the liberal arts revealed that capacity in me. During my years at the university, I drew from many disciplines to form a base of knowledge on which I have built a career.

Quite a few politicians and at least a few businessmen consider the liberal arts a waste of time and money. They think kids should be channeled down a narrow path to become productive cogs in America’s economic engine. Tell that to Steve Jobs. A quiet cubicle at IBM would never have contained him.

Quiet cubicles are not where our best and brightest should ever be stuck. This country has thrived through innovation. Creative people who can synthesize information from many sources and draw from many disciplines have always given us the edge. Show me a computer programmer who has read Cicero and admires Jackson Pollack and I’ll show you someone who is going to be far more than a conventionally productive employee.

Occasionally someone will describe me as a Renaissance man and I take that as a high compliment. I’ve had my art displayed in museums. I’ve played horn in a symphony orchestra. On my MacBook Pro (thank you, Steve Jobs), I’ve got a novel in revision and a photo book in the works. I can tell you why the War with Mexico started and how the Cold War ended. I’ve lectured at a gathering of geneticists. I’ve drawn caricatures for kindergartners. I’ve taken a boat up the Mekong and a black diamond run down a Swiss mountainside. I can ride a good horse and write a decent column.

Someone else will have to judge if this makes me a productive member of society. What I know is this: my life feels rich and, without my unending education in the liberal arts, it would be far poorer.


David Horsey is a graduate of the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences,  two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

The 2016 Washington Manufacturing Awards: Legacy Award

The 2016 Washington Manufacturing Awards: Legacy Award

Winner: Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group
Legacy Award
Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group
Auburn ›
When it’s time to make doughnuts — or loaves of bread, or sheets of rolls — it could well be a Belshaw Adamatic piece of equipment that’s turning out the baked goods. From a 120,000-square-foot plant in Auburn, Belshaw Adamatic produces the ovens, fryers, conveyors and specialty equipment like jelly injectors used by wholesale and retail bakeries.
The firm’s two legacy companies — Belshaw started in 1923, Adamatic in 1962 — combined forces in 2007. Italy’s Ali Group North America is the parent.
It it takes work to maintain a legacy. A months-long strike in 2013 damaged morale and forced a leadership change. Frank Chandler was named president and CEO of Belshaw Adamatic in September 2013. The company has since strived to mend workplace relationships while also introducing a stream of new products, such as a convection oven, the BX Eco-touch, with energy saving features and steam injection that can be programmed for precise times in baking. The company energetically describes it as “an oven that saves time, reduces errors, makes an awesome product, and is fun to use and depend on every day!”
So far, more than 3,000 have been installed in quick-service restaurants, bakeries, cafés and supermarkets in the United States. They are the legacy of Thomas and Walter Belshaw, former builders of marine engines, who began producing patented manual and automated doughnut-making machines in Seattle 90 years ago. They sold thousands worldwide and, today, Belshaw Adamatic is the nation’s largest maker and distributor of doughnut-making equipment.