A few times each school year a student with creative leanings comes into my office hours and bemoans the fact that their parents are completely unsupportive of their unprofitable artistic aspirations. “It’s like doctor, lawyer or accountant are the only jobs they’ve ever heard of!” they state while rolling their eyes and throwing their heads back in exasperation.
Even when families and friends are supportive, their encouragement can saddle writers, performers, designers and their imaginative kin with unrealistic expectations. My grandparents were always enthusiastic about my educational goals as long as I aimed to be “like Cicely Tyson” when I studied theater, “like Angela Davis” when I went to graduate school or “like Spike Lee” now that I make documentary films. Both sides of these popular views of the creative life obscure the joys and possibilities of being an everyday artist.
Skeptics are correct in presuming most people in creative professions will not acquire fortune and fame. Gatekeeping arts institutions−due in part to a steady decline of public funding−ration access to the training, material resources, exposure to the public and affirmation by critics necessary for an artist to enjoy global reach and the sales/fees/rights values that come with it. Offering someone a predatory loan or an adjustable rate mortgage are much more efficient, secure ways to earn vast sums of money and high social status.
But, are bank account balances and social media clout the best measures of success? Some individuals are simply drawn to making—paintings, performances, furniture, essays, poems, quilts, pottery, music, whatever it is—for making’s sake. For some of us, our art is a vehicle for expressing, convening and educating our communities. Either way, our success is better defined by if and how we realized our personal creative intentions. Our work may or may not be how we make a living; however, without the work there’s no joyful life.
This October on our blog is Black Artists month. We are celebrating the tradition of anti-racist creators who are more committed to making a contribution than to “making it big.” No matter how or what you create, Progressive Pupil encourages you to embrace your imagination, support the arts in your community and celebrate the everyday artist within.
Robin J. Hayes, PhD