Ever since I was a small child I had an interest in and love of the arts. It was in middle school and early high school I began to feel validated that my interest was something I was good at, or might be, with time. Unfortunately, it was in my latter years of high school when I heard I was too smart to have a career in the arts.
I moved from one public high school to another between grades 9 and 10 when I moved from Connecticut to New York. The first school was really small, well known for its academics, and yet as I recall had a quirkiness to it: it seemed to acknowledge and celebrate student interests. I played the flute for 8 years because of that school system, not to mention I was constantly in an art room. Despite the fact I was moving to another state, I was given a scholarship for an arts program that was formative for me. It was the first place I worked for hours and hours on an artwork with a deadline and I made something I was proud to call art. I felt found.
When I moved to the next high school, it was also known for its academics. But my graduating class had 400 something students in it (might even have been 600, can’t remember). I made LIFE-long friends in that school and had some really positive, rewarding experiences. But one thing I can tell you, I never felt rewarded or encouraged in my art interests the way I was in Connecticut.
As I considered my path Junior and Senior year, I was still determined to have a career in the arts. Family was worried, “How would I make money?” It bothered me, their concern, but I was stubborn. It was a well-meaning counselor that made me start to really reconsider my choices.
Our school offered a program where select students could take additional classes in the afternoons at another school. Most of the courses were of the vo-tech persuasion. One really grabbed my eye. It was afternoon drawing courses and portfolio building classes. How I wanted to go to art school! I knew I needed to develop my skill to be considered for any good art schools. So, I talked to my parents, who actually seemed amenable to the idea and then went and spoke to my counselor.
“You are too smart to do that.”
I felt squashed. In the moment, I was angry. I kept taking art classes at school, but felt cornered to finish out my high school experience in a way that was less authentic to my interests. I let other people’s societal views of vo-tech determine my future.
I have always been consumed with the idea of doing things “right” and my parents instilled a strong respect for my elders. So, unfortunately, my naive adolescent self did not stand up to this person and reiterate my true desires. I accepted their advice as truth. (And the not so subtle societal message about the arts started wending its way into my psyche…)
And that is the problem.
SO much of our culture puts art on a pedestal, that can even alienate its viewers, and yet, at the same time, we are either literally or figuratively told the arts are not important. “You can’t make money.” “What can you do with that degree for a career?” and my special moment: “You are too smart for art.”
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