An Artist’s Guilt

My dad always wants me to go into the profession displayed on whatever TV show I’m watching at the moment. If I’m watching a law show, I should be a lawyer. A medical show? A doctor. Oddly, he’s never told me to be a police officer when I’m watching a cop show. There’s an obvious reason why and it’s not because being a police officer would be a million times more dangerous than being a lawyer or a doctor. The reason is this: lawyers and doctors make a lot of money. And my dad wants, more than anything, to see me be successful.

It’s not his fault. All through high school I got high marks in science and math. He wanted me to be an engineer. He wanted me to go into chemistry. He wanted to see me succeed at something he knew he could do in a field where he knew there were jobs. Jobs that would be easy to get and easy to keep and let me take care of myself quickly after university.

And the worst part of all of that wasn’t that he wanted something for me that I didn’t want for myself, it was that I knew I could do it. I could take science and math courses and pass with flying colours and get a degree with a snap of my fingers. My brain is wired for it. I could very easily take the path he wanted me to, make him happy, and end up in a nice, safe job that would support me for the rest of my life.

The worst of it wasn’t even my dad. The worst of it was this moral weight on my shoulders telling me I could save lives with the proper training. I could make great scientific discoveries. I could solve important equations or build cool machines or make the world a better place. All these great achievements were at my fingertips if I only took the easier path. And who doesn’t want to take the easier path? The one that leads right to a pot of gold? The one everyone wants you to take?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying science and math are easy by any stretch of the word. I know that had I been in a science or math program, I probably would have burned out a lot faster than I did. Between ten hour assignments, three hour labs, and twelve hour days, I wouldn’t have made it a year. But all that information came after I had to make a decision: go to university for sciences or for arts?

I chose arts. Why? Because it was what I wanted to do. Trust me when I tell you that did nothing to alleviate my dad’s worries, my own worries, or my own guilt over what I could be doing with my life. But I knew I’d be happier if I chose to go into Writing and do what I really loved to do. One way or another, I would end up in the right place if I followed my heart.

Did I end up in the right place? Who knows? But the truth is, even while taking a semester off and re-evaluating my options, I never once seriously considered going back as a science student. Not only because it would be harder, but because I simply didn’t want to do it. I may be good at it, I may even do great things with the right training, but I could also end up in a basement lab running the same experiment 100 times a day for years on end and not do anything more useful than I could do with an arts degree. So science is still out of question.

But I guess what I’m trying to get to is this weird sense of guilt I felt about choosing arts over science. I don’t know if this is a feeling only I’ve had or if every scientifically-inclined arts student has felt it at some point. It stems from a cultural belief that science is somehow “better” or “more important” than arts when the truth is that artistry is all around us and is important to us.

In a previous post, I mentioned the book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and said, quite honestly, that this book saved my life. And that’s what art can do. Art can reach you when you’re in a bad place. It can change your mind, change your perspective, change who you are as a person. Art can save a life just like science can. And that’s what ultimately let me let go of that guilt and pursue my dreams.

While I may never revive a dying person or find the cure for cancer, I might very well write a book that speaks to someone. A book that makes someone look at the world a little differently. A book that lets someone know they’re okay, that what they feel is okay, that the world is at their fingertips and they can change what makes them sad with a little work and a little strength. Art has this strength to it that we never consider because we always think of it as aesthetic or entertainment. We never consider that the things we write, the things we draw, the music we make, impacts the people the read/see/hear it. We never realize that while we’re writing/drawing/playing, we’re changing ourselves and spilling truths we didn’t know before. We think of art as something fun, playful, arbitrary, when really it’s at the core of our culture.

My point is this: whether it’s science or math or arts or something else entirely, pick something you love and stick with it. Every discipline has its place in the world, has its own importance. And even if it feels like it’s only important to you, why isn’t that enough? Why can’t we love and work at the things that are important just to us?

Also, don’t give up on something you love just because it’s hard. I’ve been accused of doing this so much since I decided to take the semester off but that’s not the case at all. I was going at things the wrong way and now I’m going at them any way I can and eventually I’ll find the way that’s right for me. I’ll get where I’m going. I’ll achieve my dreams. I have complete and utter confidence in myself when it comes to that. Just because something is hard, just because it’s not the easy road to success, that doesn’t mean you should give it up. You should give it your all and fight tooth and nail to get there because you’re going to be so happy when you do.

Finally, don’t get too upset with your parents for trying to push you in a different direction. I know my dad comes from a place of love when he wants me to do this or that. All he wants is for me to be safe and happy and successful. And I know we have different views of how I’m going to get there and different values when it comes to what’s important in life, but I also know he wants what I do: for me to be happy, safe, and secure. And I love him for showing me in his own way how much he cares.

In summary: arts are important, don’t give up when it gets hard, and find it in your heart to love the people who want you to do something different.

Good luck!

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2 Responses

  1. Moira says:

    Jessica, I completely understand where you are coming from. I think it is so important to do what you love and have a passion for, as opposed to what you think you should be doing or what you think other people want you to do. Thank you for writing this, it was such a good reminder to see the good in pursuing an arts degree.