In every issue of Wildlife Art magazine there’s an article about a successful or up-and-coming wildlife artist which talks about how they got where they are today.
Sadly, it turns out that nearly every one of those artists seems to have been discouraged from pursuing art at some point in their lives. No matter how talented and enthusiastic the young artist was, there was always someone, often an art teacher, counselor, or parent, who strongly discouraged any notion the child had about being an artist when s/he grew up.
Why is this?
I myself, despite having a father who was very artistic, was strongly discouraged by both parents from even thinking about becoming an artist. It was so thoroughly knocked from my brain as a child that even after years of struggling in college to decide on a major, I never once considered art an option.
I just don’t see why every non-artist (and many artists) are so quick to tell you that doing art for a living is "impossible" and a sure path to homelessness and despair.
Yes, I understand it is often a difficult road, but there are many paths in life that are difficult. Being a doctor, for example, isn’t a walk in the park. Medical school is extremely difficult: it takes many years, costs a fortune, and leaves the graduate stressed out and in an enormous amount of debt. And that doesn’t even count the internship after graduating.
But do parents discourage their child from dreaming of being a doctor? No! What "good" parent wouldn’t prefer their child pursue a career in medicine instead of art?
Very few, I’d imagine, although personally I’m not sure why.
No doubt it’s because they believe all doctors are rich, and all artists are poor. Yeah, maybe, on average there are more doctors earning good salaries than artists. Yet I’ve known doctors who struggled financially, and there are many artists who do quite well.
But it’s more than about money. For some reason in this country having your child grow up to be a doctor is something to brag about. Having your child grow up to be an artist is something to be ashamed of and deny.
I finally graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration. Six months after graduation I decided there was no way that was the life for me, so I quit my job and started painting full time.
One day my father asked me what he was supposed to tell people I do for a living now. I told him to tell them I’m an artist. He visibly cringed and replied that he couldn’t possibly do that. He’d have to make up something up because it would be too embarrassing to tell people his daughter was an artist.
It wasn’t just my father. My mother also discouraged me—not because she was embarrassed by the idea of having a daughter as an artist but because she really believed, for some reason, that no one buys art. And how could I possibly make a living when no one would ever buy one of my paintings?
Beyond my parents, there were the art teachers, too. It seemed like every art teacher in school believed all artists were either starving or teaching, so unless I wanted to teach, I shouldn’t bother to pursue art.
And yet, in every issue of Wildlife Art magazine there are stories of artists who have managed to "make it" to some degree in the art world. And this is just wildlife art. I’m sure there are many more landscape, still life, and portrait artists, among others, who are doing OK for themselves in the art world.
So every time I read the story of some artist who made it despite discouragements, I have to wonder how different things would have been if they had given up instead. And then I wonder how many more artists there are out there who actually did listen to the discouragements and are now working in some dead-end job they hate—the world deprived of their art, while they’re deprived of their dreams.
I guess what I want to say is this: if you’re a teacher, counselor, parent, or just a concerned friend, and you know someone with dreams of becoming an artist, please, please do not discourage them.
Let them try and find out for themselves one way or another.
You may think you’re saving them from disappointment. . . but you might also be destroying a dream that could have come true, but now because of you, never will.