You want to be an artist, you say? Well, don’t prepare for a life of hardship and scrounging for smudged coins. Prepare for the people around you to remind you how hard your life will be and how useless it will be for the good of society.
It seems that whenever someone announces her or his aspirations to be a poet or painter, she or he is greeted with, “Well, good luck making a living.” This knee-jerk reaction to someone’s ambitions is not only obnoxious but also potentially harmful. Countless friends have admitted to me that all they want is to lead artistic lives but that they’ve recoiled from this fantasy for the sake of ease, security and acceptance from peers and parents.
Since when has law or medicine been an easier profession than art? Sure, you get paid more, once you actually have your own practice, but getting there is no easy task. By the time you’ve finished school, you’re thirty and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. And imagine your shoulders hunched as you pore over legal jargon deep into the night, with only the dim flicker of a lamp for company. While this depressing (in my opinion) future earns you credibility in society, such respect rarely extends to artists. When you announce a burning desire to write, it’s like everyone expects you to end up huddled in tattered rags on the streets, addled by hunger and hypothermia.
I believe that this backlash stems in part from an ingrained preconception that making art is not a worthy or respectable pursuit and that to truly contribute to mankind means dedicating one’s life to healing all its physical ailments. Of course doctors and scientists are necessary (and I only wish I could understand chemistry like they do), but to say art is superfluous to existence is simply wrong. We are fortunate enough to live in a place where music and literature are not luxuries but integral aspects of day-to-day life, so let’s embrace that by buoying the creators of said art forms.
Furthermore, budding creators themselves are hyper-aware of these hazy futures and often add to the “starving artist” image.
“All I want is to major in art,” my friend sighed to me, “but I won’t get a job. I just want to do what I love.”
Well, I wanted to say, as long as you don’t perpetuate this ridiculous stigma in your own head, you can. Self-fulfilling prophecy, my fellow artiste. Everyone worries about money at some point in their lives; at the time of this conversation, however, we were fifteen and had yet to have any fiscal troubles whatsoever. I guess fantasizing about how romantically tragic and La Bohème-like your life will be when you’re freed from the shackles of socioeconomic comfort must be entertaining.
Maybe everyone else is realistic, and I’m just woefully optimistic about the pursuit of creativity, too privileged to comprehend the struggles in the outside world. But I’d rather spend these years with the conviction that honing my craft will not be for nil, that I can spend college studying what I love without concern for economic viability.
In truth, it’s financially precarious to be anything nowadays, and I suggest we all lift each other’s spirits rather than dampen them with statistics about unemployed English majors.