Guest column: To the young artist graduating high school: You got this
By Cassidy Wingate
Starting last fall, I came into contact with something that I thought I may never have to again: the college application.
My little sister is a visual artist and is in her senior year of high school. For anyone else who is currently going through this, I salute you.
This is a tricky and scary time because you are (for the first time in your life) solely responsible for deciding what you will be doing and learning. You are having to try to choose the “right” school: The school with the program you want, the school you can afford, the school that is somewhere you actually want to live for four years — the list goes on and on.
There is also a belief in your head that is something along the lines of, “Every decision I make right now has to be ‘right.’ Otherwise my whole future is doomed. I need to know, in this moment, what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
This thought can be 10 times more terrifying if you think you want to be an “artist.”
You want to be an artist — whether a painter, musician, writer or actor. You find joy in being creative and you want to learn how to better your craft, but you are maybe afraid to pursue it for a number of reasons.
I remember that time in my life so well, wanting one thing and thinking I should be doing something else in order to ensure my future happiness. As I watch my little sister go through this transition, I feel so much empathy for her situation. I wanted to take some time to offer answers to some questions I feel like so many of us ask ourselves during this pre-college phase of life and a few words of encouragement as well.
“Is being an artist important? Is it a real job?” Yes, being an artist is a real job and, yes, it is important.
Every movie you have ever seen, every song you have listened to and every cool photograph you have seen online or in a magazine was made by an artist who was paid to make it. It is an important job because art, in all its different forms, is something that brings people closer together and teaches us about people’s experiences unlike our own.
Think about how when you go to see a new movie, the theater is full of people you don’t know and you have all gathered in one place to enjoy the same piece of art. The same goes for art shows or music concerts. It calls upon strangers to join together and for a brief time be on the same “team.”
Art is also the way we express our thoughts and feelings when we can’t say it with words alone. Whether you realize it or not, you interact with art every day of your life, and it was someone’s job to make it.
“Will I be able to get other jobs with an art degree?” Yes! I have so many friends who have degrees in music, visual art, photography, etc., but have gone on to get jobs in teaching, management, administration, finance — blah, blah, blah. Arts degrees are still degrees and will earn you a safe place in the work force.
“What if I study art, but everyone is better than I am?” First off, that just can’t be true. Our individual talents are all so different from one another that you can’t compare them with others. You may have two writers, but one writes science fiction and the other one writes poetry. Can you say which one is better? They each specialize in a particular way of doing what they do, and both are valuable in their own ways.
Secondly, if someone is “better” because he or she knows a little more or have been doing something longer — lucky you. The way that we get better at things is when we get the opportunity to be around those who already have experience with what it is that we are trying to learn.
For example, you probably learn more math from your math teacher than you would from your friend Matt on the swim team. It’s because your math teacher cares about math and has put a lot of practice into being good at it. The same goes for being around new teachers and classmates you can observe and use their knowledge to further your own.
“What if it is too hard?” It’s not. I promise!
The work is not the hard part; it’s making sure that you prioritize it. When you go off to college, it is so exciting to meet new people who are into the same things as you and to not have a curfew. You’ll want to hang out with your friends all the time, go see cool new things around your campus or town, and be an “adult” for the first time.
Your job in all this is to balance your priorities. Make sure you set aside the time you need in order to complete all your school work, and then you can use the rest of your time however you want.
Just promise me one thing: get enough sleep. Sleep is so important and, trust me, you will need it to get through those early-morning lectures and classes.
But the work? Spending time doing the thing you came to do? You are intelligent, talented and capable of figuring out how to make it work.
“What if I change my mind?” This is something I feel like people don’t tell you enough when you are in the search for the right college or major — it is OK to change your mind.
You may be thinking that you have to know now and that if you change your mind, that means you failed. This is so far from the truth. Sometimes it takes having tried one thing in order to figure out what it is that you really want to do. You may be worried that switching from one life path to another is too difficult, but trust me when I say this: there are always options.
Life is something that we try to spend so much time planning and doing “correctly,” but even if all your plans work out, a meteor still might come crashing from the sky. Nothing is guaranteed to work out the way you thought it would, so you have to be open to whichever direction you are pulled toward.
I took voice lessons all through high school and when it came time to go to college, I didn’t really understand what to do with my life, so I just went with what other people told me I was good at. I studied opera for a few years at an arts conservatory.
Don’t get me wrong, I love singing still, but while I was studying it I could feel in my bones that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
While at that same arts conservatory, I got to see incredible plays and films that were made by students. I even started taking acting classes when my schedule would allow, and I understood so clearly that acting was the thing that I loved most in this world. Now I have been living in New York for two, nearly three, years and I am the happiest I have ever been. So just know, you are going to be OK no matter what and you are going to figure it out.
Now, if you don’t change your mind and you want to stick with this thing you feel passionate about, awesome. People who do the things they care about are the people who positively affect the people around them. They are the people who smile at strangers, who help their friends when help is needed, and who make changes in their communities.
Stress and discontent take up a lot of emotional space, but when you do the things that bring you joy, you have more room in your heart to love others well.
What I am trying to say is when you do yourself the favor of pursuing what you love, you are doing the world around you a favor. Becoming an artist is a wonderful thing, and you have all the tools you need to build the future that you dream of. I promise.