Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Art is Great, But Is it a Profession?

I was supposed to be something important when I grew up... a constitutional lawyer, actually. That was my dad's plan for me. He starting educating me and grooming me for a career as a civil rights defender when I was about 10.

That's also about the time I drew the little mouse that I found on the ad on the back of a matchbook and sent it in to the correspondence art school.

Whoa! You should have heard the yelling when my dad was called by the school and asked to pay for the art lessons I had "qualified" for.

Art is great, but it's not a profession.

I didn't go to law school (was two weeks away when I came to my senses and just couldn't go). I never gave up art, but it took me many, many years to become a full-time studio artist.

Art is great, but it's not a profession. Or it's a profession for somebody else. Somebody with money ... or access to it. Lots of it.

Why is this still haunting me? Why does it permeate a lot of our thinking?

Why? Because we don't really value art in our culture. We certainly don't value artists.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a party talking to someone I didn't know. The room was filled with people who had committed their lives to improving the world. Some are nationally known for the causes they have championed.

This stranger turned to me: What do you do, she asked.

I felt myself getting sheepish. That's a new experience for me. But still, I was a little embarrassed.

I'm an artist.

Really? She was impressed and wanted to hear about all it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm proud of my work, but at that moment, I felt intimidated by the power in the room. Lots of those people I knew well and they don't think I'm an idiot or unimportant. At least they don't say that to my face. Many of them collect my work.

So why did I react that way?

Because in a dozen ways, every day, we get this message: Art is frivolous. Art is a hobby. Art is not important. Art is not a profession.

Don't believe me? How much education funding has been cut from art departments in the last 30 years? How many schools have art education (or music or acting) as part of the core curriculum? Any? How many parents want their children to grow up to be artists?

Well, art is important, art is a profession, art is not frivolous. I can't do anything about art education and I can't change people's attitudes, but I can make art.

I can make art with an intention to keep it meaningful, expressive and thoughtful. I can strive for excellence in craftsmanship. I can be willing to talk about the inspiration behind the work.

Art is important. Artists are important. As a culture, let's try to value both.

Savannah Breeze, Polaroid Painting, ©2010 Jeane Vogel