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

5 comments:

Jolie said...

Love this post! Such wisdom here.

(My family wanted me to be a real-estate agent.)

Thanks, Jeane!

Dianne Poinski said...

Thank you Jeane and congratulations on saying "I am an artist"! That's huge and something I still stuggle with. You have inspired me.

I was going to school to become an accountant when I discovered photography.

PS I love "Savannah Breeze" - I can feel it!

RMCotton said...

Fantastic! I love this post as well.
It is a hard row to hoe - being a professional artist, but we HAVE to take out work seriously, or we can never expect someone else to. We are strong people, artists. We put ourselves out there everyday. Our honed skills are constantly critiqued, and we keep going! Be proud of your strength, your skills, your courage, your imagination, and your profession!!

I know it all sounds preachy, but go back and read it with the national anthem or something playing the background, and feel really passionate about it! Isn't that fun?

DJ said...

As an art educator in the public school system, I can say "Amen" to everything you wrote.
In this economy, my small-town school district announced it is cutting 6-10 teachers from my high school this spring in planning for next year's financial shortfalls.
The powers-that-be have no idea what my students are receiving from my teaching. They don't know that I give tests that most adults can't pass. They don't know that a graduate visited me on his way to art school to thank me.
They don't know that some kids come to school just to find a haven in my classroom.
But the politicians and big bankers seem to be sleeping well. I'm glad someone is...

There's always prayer...

Kate said...

You are so right! Everything you wrote rang a cord for me and the many artists I know, and two of my friends are internationally known making art their lives and careers. I taught school for 15 years, but always the art pulled me. Now as a professional artist and an educator, I always put myself as an artist first. Don't get me wrong, I loved and still love to teach, but now I concentrate on teaching art. Combining the two helps my lifelong dream, as well as bringing the culture of art to those who may think it's a frivolous pastime. We are professionals in our choice, and there's no reason why we can't do both. All aspects of the arts have suffered in our society, and most don't understand that in schools today, we are losing generations of creativity, innovation and invention through cutting the arts to children. I taught art in math, science, reading, history, vocabulary, everything. It can be done, but I feel many teachers today have little self-confidence in their own teaching abilities due to their own lack of sudy in the area or their schools not fully incorporating the arts as serious subject matter. These teachers can not apply their own creativity to teaching because they were never taught how. Some are brilliant at it, but the schools do not support it. How many tell us that they "can't draw a straight line' as adults? Many create negative self-talk for themselves or never try. As a culture we must value the arts, so when I'm in a room of so-called movers and shakers, I hold my head high! Proud to be the artist I am. Interestingly enough, people are interested and most may be intimidated by us. We had the courage to follow our dream and life path. We are changing the world as well, one person at a time.
Great blog, Mary!
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