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Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Worthy Dream

This past month, the community I live in voted on a millage to support the arts. If passed, it would increase funding for local libraries and allot a small portion of taxes to the art museum in the nearest metropolitan area. I voted—and I’m proud to say it passed, resulting in free admission for area residents to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Being the cheapskate that I am, I took my children to the museum, like, the second the polls were in.

     All of my kids show great artistic potential, and I want to be supportive if they do decide to pursue a career in the arts. Yet, like many parents, I’m tempted to urge them to have a “backup plan”. The danger is that they may see this as an indication of my being unsupportive. Am I? Yes. It’s like saying, “Follow your dream, but have an alternate one in case the first one doesn’t pan out.” It goes against the very definition of a dream.

     It's a conundrum, for sure. We may be authors and artists, copywriters and graphic designers, documentary-makers and photographers…but would we wish all the toil and turmoil we went through to earn these titles on our children? It's harder to be on stand-by than to be working toward the goal ourselves.
Talk about a sense of entitlement!
My kids use the easels that, I'm pretty sure,
are meant for art students.
     While waiting in line for a book signing, I saw how the author/illustrator stifled a wince every time a parent insisted his or her son or daughter was going to be an artist too. The woman in front of me in line had proof: her seventeen-year-old son had already sold a picture. “That’s great!” I said, and smiled as she went on to tell me that he wanted to attend an art school. I said I didn’t wonder; it must be heartening to have success at such a young age. Her next comment surprised me. She confided that she’d rather he study something else. Something stable.
     So I suggested he pursue a career in advertising. (I’d forgotten that it was considered to be art’s ugly step-sister.) Perhaps I gushed, because I loved my job in ads. Yet I was honestly trying to be helpful, showing that there was some hope of financial stability in the arts if one went about it realistically. As an art director, I reasoned, her son would have a stable paycheck yet could still market his art on the side. Then if the work turned out to be steady, he could give up working on ads and just do that. The moment the first syllable of the word “advertising” fell from my lips, she began to look at me as if I’d suggested that her son backpack across Mars, post-college. She never spoke to me again. (She grabbed her signed book, and was out of there!)
Did I mention that my son's gonna be an artist?
     Whatever! It was good advice (It was!), and if Brett Helquist had given it—she probably would’ve listened. Her loss—or maybe her son’s. In any case, it gets me back to my point. We must support our children in their decisions to pursue artistic careers. Our job is not to judge, but to guide them in going about it realistically. We must strike a fine balance between warning them of the pitfalls they’ll encounter and putting a damper on their dreams. Make it clear: We too deem these dreams worthy. If we don’t do all this, we are big-old, artsy-fartsy hypocrites! Not to mention, bullies. So, there. That said, I’m going to stop pressuring my kids to be dentists. Pinky promise.

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