“I want to be an artist.” I said the statement proudly and without hesitation. Even as a first grader, I felt it deep in me. I was always complimented on my drawings whenever we got an opportunity to use markers and paint. I didn’t even have to try hard to have whatever was in my head to travel through my hand and onto the page. It just happened. And it was good. So, when someone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I replied with confidence that I would do something that I loved and was naturally good at—I would create art.
Adults couldn’t hide their furrowed brows or the downturned corners of their mouths. The boldest of them retorted, “Artists don’t make any money. You ever heard of the term starving artist?”
No? I can’t be an artist?
No. I don’t want to starve. I already knew what it meant not to have enough food in the house. “I can be a doctor,” I reasoned.
This response was met with nods of approval and impressive smiles. Being a doctor gathered much more respect and was much more reasonable than being an artist, and I never said I wanted to be an artist again.
Still, I kept drawing and finding new mediums to explore. In fourth grade, the art teacher invited me and a selected group of students to paint a mural and we got featured in the newspaper. In middle school, I was part of the art club and stayed after school creating rainmakers and sketching portraits, and I was secretly writing short stories and saving them onto floppy disks in my spare time. In high school, I won awards for my poetry and plays and got my work printed in a few anthologies. I also spent a summer writing a three-hundred-page manuscript that I placed in a three-ring binder on my bookshelf.
But when it came time to plan for college, and when I had to write a personal narrative of my future goals and aspirations for an essay application—I said “I want to be a doctor.” But it didn’t feel right. I soon discovered the slew of math and science classes I would need to take to be a science major and quickly changed my course of study to Television Production. I found a new art form that encompassed everything that I loved to do and rationalized that I could still make money in Hollywood and possibly go to law school to become an entertainment lawyer. I wouldn’t be a starving artist, but I could still be in proximity to art itself.
To some degree, I felt that my path was set. I had a plan. But life did what life does, and I found myself with no job prospects and a full-blown recession underway when I graduated. After a year of retail work, I went back to school to get a master’s degree and became a public school teacher. I felt incredibly cheated by life. Fate seemed like some unfair predicament that I had not control over. Perhaps it was my destiny all along to tell my students to shoot for their dreams even though I never fully actualized my own.
Still, a little voice continued to whisper, I want to be an artist. I kept myself busy with lesson plans and after-school clubs to muffle it. Over thirty years later, that voice is still whispering.
The same adults who told me there was no promise or pay in being a full-time artist tell me now that it would be foolish to leave a stable job. Yet, very few of these adults appear content and satisfied with their own lives and hold their own regrets close to their hearts. Some of them are retired and just now learning what it means to live for themselves. I am witness to my elders who have stayed loyal to professions that have passed them over for raises and promotions and who no longer seem to access the passion that once burned in them. I accept their sacrifices and their fears, but I’m choosing to listen to this voice that has never quieted in me. As a matter of fact, I’m giving it a microphone and I shaping that dream into an affirmation that I repeat louder and louder.
I have the power to create the life I desire.
I want to be an artist.
I AM an artist.
I will make be able to make a comfortable and fulfilling life from my art.
I will become a full-time artist.