The first reason, and by far the most important, to study the arts is because you love them, or are at least curious about them and want to find out more. I can't stress how important it is to study something with which you feel passionately engaged.
To those of you doing your Leaving Certificate, with decisions to make about your futures, I say this: during the course of your adult lives you will, believe me, have plenty of time to make your compromises with the world. For heaven's sake, don't start out with a compromise. Study the thing you love.
The arts are important because they are what make us human. The earliest recorded artefacts of our species include artworks - cave paintings, carved images. Homo sapiens made art, Neanderthal Man did not; we survived, they did not. Art is not an adornment or added extra that we can get around to once we have attended to the 'important' things in life.
Art encourages individual, personal responses. That's why repressive regimes are always so hostile towards the arts. The Taliban hate music. Fascists are afraid of art and artists - when they take over, it is usually the writers, film-makers, and intellectuals who are first against the wall.
And for good reason. Art bursts through the confines of ideology, seeks freedom. Attempts to regulate art and bend it to the will of dictators are generally failures - think of all those monumental works of Soviet Realist statuary, now torn down, broken up, or standing in museums, as a warning. We can tell the difference between art and propaganda.
Or we can if we are educated to do so. All education should instill the virtues of critical thinking. An education in the arts certainly does so. My own education in English literature has given me a critical vocabulary - and more importantly, a critical habit of being - which has served me well in any number of situations, from getting a job to casting a vote.
More than ever, we need a workforce and an electorate which is critically and culturally literate, intellectually self-confident, independent, and articulate. Employers tell us, time and again, that these are exactly the qualities they want in graduates: this is what they mean by 'transferable skills'.
When people talk to my colleagues in English and me at Trinity open days, the first question we are often asked is: What job can I get with an English degree? Obviously this is an important question. The answer is that English, or any arts subject, is not directly vocational, does not train you for one particular career. Rather, it provides a critical education which enables you to go on to any number of careers. English graduates have gone on to be successful business people, rock stars, and the Prime Minister of Canada.
As if this weren't enough, studying the arts will make you, at a stroke, devastatingly witty, suave, and attractive, if not downright irresistible. That, of course, is the real reason why I chose to study them.