Help! My child wants to be an artist!

2:29 PM


As some might know already, I spend time every week answering art related questions on Quora and some questions keep recurring, among them the one on the theme of : 

"I/my child want to be an artist, but it's not a serious career" 

I also faced parents in real life saying stuff like "If my child ever wants to pursue art, I'll kill myself" (no joke I got that told that by a parent in my daughter's school).

Here is what I have to say to this whole kill oneself or talk of art not being a serious career : 


Yes that is right! Enough with the dramatics and perpetuating myths and garbage about choosing a visual art or creative career. This. Garbage. Has. To. Stop! 

I heard, and read it all on that topic, the amount of "compelling" points not to pursue art are in no short supply and the myth are a-plenty. 

Myth #1 : There is no future in art

If you think that way, I'm going to challenge you to grab today's newspaper and look that the first ad you see, or grab one of your children's book, or the glossy perfume ad in your favourite magazine, or that box of cookies in your pantry with the cool/cute little design on it, or just look at what is printed on your clothes. 

Guess what? All of it is the work of one or more person that pursued some sort of creative studies or career. 
Now more than ever, we live in a highly visual world, be it in prints or online, you can't spend a single day not being exposed to the work or a concept artist, graphic designer, product designer, surface designer, or illustrator. It ALL AROUND people...all around! 

The myth must have been born from the idea that an artist just work hours on a canvas painting, preferably a conventional floral or landscape and then hope to maybe one day possibly sell it for enough money to buy a fresh stock of ramen noodles to survive on until the next sale. 
This is the highly popular "Starving artist myth" and anybody uttering it in my presence get recommended to read the book "Real Artists Don't Starve" by Jeff Goins (and yes it's an affiliate link because yours truly got to eat). 

Art is so much more than just producing fine art canvas that may or may not sell. 

Myth #2 : Only a few can do it, not everyone is luck

The funny bit about this myth, is that people pretty much accept as a fact that not everyone is cut out to pursue a creative career to begin with, but that we should push every single kids to be good at maths and physics because yeah sure we are ALL cut out for that! 

I'm dyscalculic (mean ing I have dyscalculia), no matter how hard I try, numbers are a huge challenge, I spent my whole childhood struggling with maths and physics, trust me when I say this, you do NOT want me to be in any sort of profession that require you to work with numbers, be it an accountant or engineer because I often struggle to write down a pincode or my bank account number and need to proof read it 3 times to really make sure I didn't swap a few digits and remembering a phone number is a herculean task, heck scratch that, just entering a bank OTP is debilitating at time. 

But yeah apparently it was better to invest in very expensive maths tuition, deal with hours of frustration and possibly tear just so I could barely pass my math exam to be tortured with more complex math the next year. Because, you know we all need maths to survive and we all have a shot at being number wizards and scientists. 
A kid who suck at math is apparently a big problem and warrants hours of tuition, but nobody worries about a kid not drawing well, no need to pay for extra art class then! 

We all have different abilities. If a child is having affinities for art, they should be encouraged, and nurtured, not shot down with a "Artists are lucky people". 

Growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer for a brief time, my parents suggested that I look into being a costume designer and seamstress instead. Why? Because apparently I would have a better shot at doing that than be in fashion. 
This sadly come from the belief that the likes of Christian Dior are one designer wonder and work all alone on their collection. The very idea that a fashion house is a label that hire dozens and dozens of designers to put a collection together isn't one people are very familiar with. 

In the same way many people still believe Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel all by himself...NOPE! He was at the head of a workshop and his name was the brand name, he hired several artists to work under him to create his vision in the same way a creative agency today hires dozens of graphic designers and illustrators to work on commercial projects. So much about it being a field for a select lucky few huh? 

When a kid wants to be a scientist nobody discourage them saying "You have a very slim chance at winning a Nobel, so why don't you pick something safer as a career". So why is it that when a kid wants to be a designer people feel it's ok to say garbage like "Not everyone can be Coco Chanel"?

Myth #3 : it's not a safe career and/or the pay isn't good

Says who? If you get hired as a designer in a creative agency you'll get a good base salary that will increase with the years of experience, and since we live in a visual world, it's not like you'll sit idle a lot between projects. 
If you choose the freelance route you are going to be in charge of finding your own clients, or projects, but then again no one going freelance just wait around until someone hires them, they sell themselves and their skills and are good at doing that. The going rate in the US for a logo design by a freelance designer start at around 100$ and can go a lot higher depending the company, the size of the work, the distribution rights to be negotiated and the time spent on a project. Those rate can go higher for illustration work. This article by Jessica Hische is a very informative one about what goes into pricing freelance illustration work. 

Most freelance artists/illustrator/designers all have more than one stream of income at all time, myself included. 

I'll give you that the freelance route is requiring very special skills, especially sales skill and a lot of hard work because with no boss breathing down your neck you will need to make sure you show up day in and day out to meet your deadlines. But freelancing is not the ONLY route you have in a creative/art career, it's perfectly fine to work for a creative agency and those jobs are no less safe than being hired in any other company or line of work. 

I think this myth comes from the fact that people don't really understand the art world well enough. There is this notion that it's lazy work, that doodling the day away can't be respectable or have the same value as someone who studied for a law degree. 

When I was in high school, I was in the "art division" or art major section if you prefer. To be accepted in the art disivion, we needed to have the good marks required of any student to attend high school to begin with, but we were also subjected to an entrance exam for which we had to present a portfolio of our artwork. If I remember well, the minimum requirement was 20 different artwork showcasing the range of skills we had. The work presented could be anything, there was no theme, but there was an untold fact : those who presented just the bare minimum of 20 projects was not going to have a high chance of making it. Most students present about 40-50 different projects, they didn't have to be big, but they had to be diverse and show what we could do raw talent wise. 

Despite the fact that the art major kids were hit with a double requirement and skills to enter high school, and the fact we had close to 40 hours of classes a week compared to other majors that had 32-35 we were still labeled the "Tourist division" implying we were a lazy bunch because we were in basic level for maths, physics, biology and chemistry, topic which were mandatory still on top of the 10+ hours of advanced art classes, regular French lit, and at least English and German as 2nd and 3rd language. So much for us being lazy huh? 

The myth seems to prevail regardless, mostly because people have no idea what goes into acquiring artist skills that can be turned into marketable skills. 

Having addressed all these myths, let me tell you that as a person who once was told by my parents to make more sensible choices about my career, and been fed some of these : Stop doing this to your child...TODAY

You may not understand their choice, you probably never fully understand, but you owe it to them to be supportive, inform yourself of the opportunities in that line of work and instead of spending a fortune to help them turn into the mathematicians they probably never will be, invest in classes that will help them develop their natural affinities further. 

Deepak Chopra said : 

"If a child is poor in maths but good at tennis, most people would hire a math tutor. I would rather hire a tennis coach"

I can't even begin to tell you how much I agree with that statement. Last year I was meeting the remedial teacher at my daughter's school and this lady kept telling me how much more maths my daughter needed to study and how I should be sitting with her one hour everyday to coach her in maths. 

Here is what I told her : 

Absolutely not! 

I went on to explain that at home I focused on honing her sense of responsibility, independence and creative skills because those are life skills that will matter regardless what she choose to do. I emphasised that I was myself an entrepreneur and that as far as I was concerned my set of skills wasn't taught in school and it was my duty to pass these on rather than do an half assed duyscalculic job at teaching her to solve maths problems. 

The answer of that lady was "You must realise that not everyone will become an entrepreneur right?" 

My reply : "You know we can't all become scientists and engineers right?"

I strongly believe we all came to this world with very specific affinities that we need to tap into to live our life to the fullest potential, and as parents it's not our job to decide what is good for our kids but observe and identify those affinities and help our kids develop them without judging or preventing them to pursue what they want simply because of our own twisted beliefs. 

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  1. Thanks for dispelling the myths associated with art as a career. The problem is the aversion towards things done with hands. I visited a university in Gujarat run on Gandhian principles. There students clean their campus on their own, cook food in the canteen and pretty much look after the upkeep of the university themselves. They are taught to weave, do glass work, horticulture etc. so that they acquire life skills along with academics. If not a job, they can be self-employed and give employment to others. That is the education system we need.

    There is also the uncertainty associated with subjects which are not considered lucrative for a carrier and non-academic pursuits like sports. Now, things are changing take for eg. In cricket, a few years ago the only way up was to get a place in the national team. Today, we have the IPL, which provides more opportunities to young players to make money. There is a Hindi poet who has millions of followers on social media, and has made Hindi poetry hip again amongst youngsters, who could have thought about that. The same goes for actors who after spending decades in film industry, are getting good work now, since new kind of cinema is being produced and now we have the OTT platforms. As the pie goes on increasing, there will be more incentive towards all kind of arts and sports.

    1. The doing manual things aversion is really just a problem prevalent in India, in the Western concept they are not seen as repulsive and many a college student has paid their campus accommodation being a janitor, night guard or waiting tables.

      The problem is that something that is perceived as fun can’t be serious and that is where it gets seriously wrong. Funny that you mention sports, because there is cruelly less chance of being a professional athlete than there are professional career part within the visual art field, yet people are warming up to the idea of being a professional athlete quicker than to the idea that being good at art can open the door to graphic design, surface pattern, concept artist, set designer, costume designer, product designer, web designer, illustrator, animation movie artist, layout artist, storyboard artist, comics artist, graphic novel illustrator, decorator, interior designer.....the list goes on and on

      In term of career potential studying arts open as many doors as science or commerce, yet it is seen is less “brainy” therefore is for the dumb. Yet commercial design of my kind you need a grasp of color theory, basic psychology, marketing stills and awareness about trends, all topics that are anything but lazy, and that is before you throw in the tech that goes in it because nowadays you got to have knowledge of digital softwares to assist design and there is a constant learning curve in the field.


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