The Life Journey of an Artist
Length: 715 words (2 double-spaced pages)
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Throughout history the role of the artist has changed greatly. Looking through the annals of Art History, the time that we are in now is very different than any other. A profession that has always been looked at as just that, a profession, has become more of a life mission, of sorts. Very gradually the artist began working for his or her own benefit instead of for a benefactor or commission. Is this a good change or a bad one? Is this the inevitable evolution of art? Is life as an artist in this society worth the effort? These question are what face many young people like myself.
Someone once said to me "mindless programmable beings the choices would be easy. We would all be doctors and lawyers. Those are obviously the most easily attained and most rewarded in our society. Going to college for medical or law for a few years seems to predestine you for, if nothing else, a fairly large paycheck and a nice house in the suburbs. The culmination of the American dream. So why, one would ask would anyone choose to be an (gasp!) artist?
This is the dilemma that most art students face today. Should they be true to their personal and artistic values or should they assure their the ability to survive in a capitalist American society. A profession that, throughout history, has been considered that of an artisan, has changed. Artist were once respected for their talent and rewarded for their accomplishments. The artists of yesteryear were content to be commissioned to showcase their patron's visions. An artist who bows to a patron today is considered an artistic whore. They are said to not be true to themselves or their profession. People like designers and performing artists thus face a problem. In the artistic community they are not doing anything of value because they are buying into the system. But in the rest of the world they are grouped into 'artist' for their talents. And so they are left to float in the middle. But the point stands that they have a better chance of attaining the great American dream of happiness through monetary accomplishments.
The artist who does not take into account the system in which we live, however does not have as good of a chance. Of course there are artists who have been true to themselves and are considered successes in our society.
For the young artist there is always that hope of discovery, that glimmer of 'What if I could make it big?' Successes like that are much more of a lottery game than I would like them to be. I can't help thinking though, of all of those poor artists who live their entire life just barely making it through. The ratios of fame and fortune cases to starving artists are not very appetizing figures. And so I, as somewhat of an artist, am torn.
I posed my dilemma to a respected teacher. She couldn't answer. The only advice she could give me was that life was about the journey, not the destination. The answer lies in how much the doctor, lawyer, designer, or freelance artist has gotten out of his or her life and what their individual values are. I know that she's right and that the choice should be obvious. Be true to yourself, find your values and stick to them with everything you've got. But a twenty year old's personal values change, sometimes from day to day. Can young people be expected to build a solid fort on ground that is so unstable? Sometimes I think that maybe if I were in the middle of the Italian Renaissance instead of in the dawn of the twenty-first century my choice would be easier. Leonardo and Raphel were in a system that made their choice for them. This of course leads to another question, "do I really want someone to make my choices for me?"
The massive barrage of question that artists-in-training must ask themselves and the countless library of answers is the curse that talent brings with it. The lesson that I have learned is from the teacher who couldn't answer the question. The journey will happen no matter what, the destination is inconsequential.