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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Definitely can relate. I have a friend who did very well in school, but he wanted to become a musician. Some people would think it’s a “waste” and that he was “too smart” for that.
By the way, I played the flute for 8 years too. I was very good at it! 😀 Now I’m playing much more piano. Kinda loss passion for the flute.
Hi Jeremy, Thanks so much for sharing. Lots of people have gone through a similar experience. Yay flutists! I love my flute. I need to give it more time. I can play the piano a wee bit, hope to get one for my home in the future and begin the self-taught experience all over again. 🙂
I remember being told almost the same thing with regards to teaching!
It breaks my heart that people are told their hopes, dreams, and interests are below them.
It was following WW II that I asked my parents if I could attend art school. They never discouraged me, or encouraged me. Yet they did remind me of what occupations did show show promise given the current economy. There were no student loans and tuitions were very costly. I went into public service and in reflection I had no regrets. Thirty five years later I found the tuition and did a four year fine arts programme at a Canadian university. I have been practising art now for twenty years! All seems to work out providing one is patient and committed to their dream!
Hi Bruce, What a wonderful story to share, thank you SO much! A most important message: “All seems to work out providing one is patient and committed to their dream!”
I had one teacher who taught social studies in middle school.we were doing a stud on north korea and i put a correct answer nobody else thought of. he called me to his desk, mind you this man was very old, and said you’re smart you know you’re to smart for this anime stuff.
Samuel I hear you! I see you. And you’re too smart to know that one person’s assessment of who you are and what interests you can’t possibly be more informed than YOU about yourself. <3 Art is important, valuable, life changing... and can be a career IF that is something you want for it, too. Art can also just be about having fun. The important thing is checking in with yourself for that answer... for you are the only person who knows the answer.