This post originally appeared on The Blood Red Pencil in April of 2013. If you are a writer and have not read this blog, you are missing some good stuff. Here’s what I wrote:
I have a young grandson who I think is musically talented. In fact, I think he is gifted, although I suppose it is remotely possible that I am a tiny bit prejudiced. But what is my grandson doing in a blog post about writing?
He’s here because I want my grandson to live a happy and fulfilled life, and I fear that he will begin to hear those voices in his head shooting him the very same line of BS that I got when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. These voices are familiar to all American artists, whatever their art form.
Art is just a hobby, not a profession. You can’t make money at music, writing, acting, painting, etc. – unless you are really really lucky and become Beyonce or Dan Brown or Judy Chicago – you have about the same chance of becoming rich in the arts as you do of winning the lottery. Make sure you train for something else to fall back on, because you will need it. People who try to become artists are immature Peter Pan types who don’t want to grow up and face the real world. Most artists end up broke or mooching on their relatives. Artists are selfish types who are always looking to others to support them. Arts are an extra.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
One of the things I find ironic and infuriating is that the same negative messages are true for athletics also, yet sports does not get this treatment nearly as often or as stridently as the arts do. Children are encouraged, even expected, to try their hand – and other body parts – at sports.
What if we encouraged budding artists the same way? Arts are the heart of any society; we need artists. What if we actually compensated artists for their contributions to society – and not just the tiny percentage who manage to rise to the top? What if painters and sculptors and poets and trombone players made as much money as corporate executives and engineers and doctors?
What would have happened if Mozart, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Van Gogh – or to take American examples, Yo Yo Ma, Ray Charles, Meryl Streep, Ansel Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison – what if they had given in to those negative messages and gave up their dreams? Our society would be unrecognizable if there were no artists. In fact, our society would be dead without them.
What if my grandson was encouraged to become a musician? Would that be so bad? Would he really be condemned to starving in a garret? What if we encouraged children to explore and develop their artistic side? Perhaps we would have a nation of art lovers, instead of money lovers and sports fanatics.
Perhaps that would be just as good, or maybe, just maybe, even better.