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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Your Parents are Right (Sort of)

Be Mused

Your Parents are Right (Sort of)

Dear Muse,

I would like to go into some field in which I can use my creative talent, but my parents are concerned that I won't be able to make a living as an artist, and they're encouraging me to be more "practical." This is what I really want to do, so how can I convince them that this is a good idea?

I was a full-time artist once. Back then I lived in a two-room apartment with high ceilings and faulty electrical wiring. My light bulbs were forever sputtering out and the continual need to replenish them was both a nuisance and a financial hardship. I got so desperate that I took to carrying just one light bulb around with me from room to room, screwing it into its socket as needed. Now of course my parents would've bought me several packs of light bulbs had they known I'd been sitting around so much in the dark, but I didn't want them to know that my lifestyle had become so, um, impractical.

If you set out to be a full-time, self-employed artist, don't be surprised if your mom loses all of her hair and your dad cries himself to sleep every night. It is, after all, a parent's job to worry. Among other things, they want you to have enough to eat, warm socks, and plenty of light bulbs. They want to know that after they're dead you'll still be a high-functioning, well-adjusted human being. And who can blame them? For that reason, there will be no convincing them that making a living as a full-time artist is a "good idea."

Of course, you're still welcome to try. For starters, you might plant copies of the following quote throughout their living quarters. Nearly 40 years ago, former Brown University President Henry M. Wriston said, "A guidance counselor who has made a fetish of security, or who has unwittingly surrendered his thinking to economic determinism, may steer a youth away from his dream of becoming a poet, an artist, a musician, or any other of thousands of things, because it offers no security, it does not pay well, there are no vacancies, it has no 'future.' Among all the tragic consequences of depression and war, the suppression of personal self-expression through one's life work is among the most poignant."

Far be it from me to discourage anyone with an interest in the arts, but I must warn you that lots of professional artists have had to hold day jobs. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, between 1970 and 1990 alone, the numbers of artists supplementing their arts income with more traditional employment increased by 127 percent.

The good news is you absolutely can go into a field using your creative talents and still do your own artwork, too. Whether your day job is just a supplementary source of income or your mainstay, it doesn't have to be soul-suckingly dreary, and it doesn't have to be permanent, either. There are plenty of day jobs that might interest you and put your parents at ease.

Have you considered becoming a graphic artist or maybe an architect or landscape designer? Or what about looking into entertainment or intellectual property law? Art therapists don't make the salaries of neurosurgeons, but they do OK. Maybe you could curate at an art museum or operate your own art gallery. You could own a frame shop or cover arts and entertainment for a newspaper or magazine. The possibilities are really endless, and you can set a large portion of your extra income aside to launch your future as a full-time artist if you decide that is still what you want to do.

One more note: no matter what you decide, I think you'll be happiest if you settle in a city that is rich in the arts and offers affordable housing and general living expenses, too. Some of my top picks are Berea, Kentucky; Missoula, Montana; Bisbee, Arizona; and Burlington, Vermont. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »