‘Oh really? You’re going to do that?‘
‘Why can’t you just be a doctor? or a lawyer, or something?’
‘Congratulations. I hope you enjoy a life of unemployment.‘
If any of the above statements sound familiar to you, I will hedge my bets and assume that, like me, you too are an arts student. If not, this article should appeal nonetheless as an enlightening first-hand experience of somebody who has dedicated their life to struggling.
The ‘Arts’ is a subjective term. You might associate it with an angsty 20-something flexitarian (hi, follow me on Instagram), or perhaps you simply conjured up an image of Timothee Chalamet… both (subjectively) relevant interpretations. If you are well educated in this field, I’m going to go ahead and assume you thought of …Picasso? …Matisse? …Klimt? …Rembrandt? Tell me I’m right.
Now, here’s a task. Let us change the prompt of ‘art’ to ‘art and education’, and explore the difference in attitude. From my personal experience, I have been made to believe (from teachers nonetheless) that whilst ‘art’ is beautiful and ‘nice to look at’, it is NOT a career, and certainly not something you can make a living from! English, Maths, Science – those are ‘real, honourable’ subjects that will grant you a worthy life. Ironically, these lectures often take place in classrooms or living rooms; spaces that are typically adorned with art, decorated with posters and stylised with furnishings that were made by artists.
It’s as though people truly believe artists were born and not formed – that filmmakers came out of the womb holding cameras, or play-writes had written their first script as a blobby embryo. It’s ridiculous to buy into this bizarre ideology that artists were born geniuses and never had to work a day in their lives… *newsflash*, they had an education too!
Honestly, I’m frustrated with it all. Throughout school I was led to believe that, because I was ‘smart enough’, I should pursue an academic career; a reccurring prospective that was fed to me by teachers, family, and eventually, myself. It didn’t matter that psychology worked me into a near-meltdown or zapped the creative inspiration from me, I was GOOD at it, and so that is what I was told I should do. And I did do it, for a month or so. I got a place at Royal Holloway to study clinical psychology and, for a while, I was on top of the world. I actually accomplished something, and people were proud of me! I was even in the local newspaper as an ‘example’ representing the school I attended.
Nowadays, I wonder if the outcome would’ve been the same had I pursued photography then as I do now. Would I still be a ‘success story’, had I taken a creative route? Or would the article focus on an academia-destined student instead?
As a disclaimer, I don’t wish to trash-talk my old school, as they never dissuaded us from pursuing our aspirations. However, the presentations and the guest visits rarely touched on creative subjects, and I think that speaks of a larger problem in itself. By not including these subjects in discussion, it renders them sort of irrelevant. I know this for myself, as I felt ashamed for wanting to study photography and believed it was a feeble aspiration as ‘anyone could take a photo’, which, whilst true, ignores the fact that most people could also master psychology/maths/English, if they put their mind to it. What I’m trying to say is that it shouldn’t matter whether a subject is classed as impressive or ‘worthy’ or not, it should matter if it makes you happy – and if it does, crack on really.
I don’t regret my one month of being a psychology student, as it taught me a valuable lesson of treating existential crises with the seriousness they deserve. My experience was also the catalyst to my greatest epiphany yet – that to be fulfilled in life you must follow your heart (as cliché as it sounds). Please don’t make the mistake I did of considering what was best for me from a financial perspective – irony truly slapped me in the face with that one, as I now owe (several) thousands for this stint!
I will end this article by saying that, if you know what you want, and you’ve set about to do it, I am proud of you. If you want to be an artist and you’ve set about to become an artist – I am PROUD of you! It is brave to go against the norm and risk failure, as anyone studying an art degree will know by facing these struggles as well – it’s essentially a package deal.
Imagine if the Beatles decided they weren’t good enough to be musicians, or if Klimt opted for a more ‘secure’ profession. What if Joan Didion decided to be a hairdresser and not a writer? I, for one, would be lacking without their inspiration. Be that inspiration for yourself -even if only for the child in you that was told to embrace their creativity, conquer evil witches, paint sunflowers with their toes, orchestrate enchanting plays and sing to their heart’s content. Creativity was encouraged then, and so it should be now.