Frivolous Pursuits

Winston Churchill at an easel painting.

Sir Winston Churchill, the great Prime Minister of England, who lead his country through WWII, when asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort, he simply replied, “then what are we fighting for?”

Last week an artist from New Orleans wrote me the nicest comment on my recent blog called, The Gift of Letters.

Maybe, as with all things, it’s about timing. I came across your blog through a series of strange clickings on Twitter. It was your artwork that caught me, but your words that challenged a response …with words, instead of using the “like” button.  I have been torn lately about giving up on some things that didn’t seem to have purpose (merit?) to anyone but me – writing and mailing letters, painting, writing (the big-thoughts kind), but coming here in such an out-of-the-blue way and reading your story, your words – “timely” is all I can think. Well, maybe serendipitous too. Regardless, this is all just to say, thank you for sharing your story and your words. They feel like permission to keep going with what had begun to feel like frivolous pursuits.

First of all………anyone who uses the word serendipitous is alright with me.  It’s a word my grandmother used in talking about the mystery and wonders of life. I believe every artist, whether they be a visual artist, musician, actor, dancer or writer have all felt this way at some point. Lord knows artist and art students are told all the time, to get a real job and to stop chasing frivolous pursuits.

Stick in knife and twist slowly

From time to time I have been confronted by a mad mother who wants something “better” for their child. They worry that if their children follow their dreams, that somehow they won’t “make it” out there in the world.

One time I had a mother confront me during a middle school open house while I was taking questions. She didn’t have a question but she said in a very stern tone, “I don’t want my daughter to grow up to become an artist like her sister, who has to teach to make a living.”

Seth and Amy, from Saturday Night Live, 2013

The room full of parents, went dead quiet as they waited for me to respond.  This lady’s daughter was a wonderful art student and expressed to me several times that she wanted to be an artist someday.

Back in the day I wasn’t always so guarded in my comments and my response to this mother was……….

“I see, and if your daughter is to not to follow her dreams, what is your plan for her?” I asked.

“My daughter is going to grow up to become a doctor,” she bellowed.”

I thought for a second and then responded, “I don’t know any starving artist…………. every artist I know are hard working and contributing citizens.  Sometimes they hold two jobs so that they can follow their dreams, but they figure it out.  It takes tenacity and perseverance to be an artist.  These are two life skills that will carry them far in the world.  Not everyone is meant to become an artist.  Some of my best art students have gone on to become architects, engineers, web designers, and yes, some go on to teach.  But generally they are happy people because they are allowed to use their creativity in their daily lives.”

I got a round of applause from everyone but the now sulking mother.

I am not teaching art so that my students become artist.  What I am wanting for my students is that they develop a love for the arts, that hopefully they become patrons to the arts and yes, that some of them go on to become artist.  But more important than all of that, I want my students to be open to the serendipitous and grand possibilities that life will present them and that they live their lives genuinely and with integrity.  And when they do find themselves to be challenged, that they find creative solutions to those challenges.

The arts have never been a frivolous pursuit and no one knew that better than Sir Winston Churchill.  Sometimes we think about our Culture as being driven by the institutions of Culture, but we wouldn’t have a need for museums and symphony halls and theaters if there were not artists, musicians, dancers, actors or writers.

Once in high school I came home wearinggotta have art a button that said, “You gotta have art”.  My father stopped me and said, “You know that isn’t true”.  I couldn’t believe he said that, because it felt that way to me at the time.  I was young without much perspective.  My father  then went on to say, “No you gotta have a job, so that you have clothes to keep you warm, have food to eat, have a roof over your head……….”  At the time I thought these were just the words of an old man, but as I have grown older I understand exactly what he meant.  No matter how much art means to me, making art is a luxury that I afford myself.  That being said, my father could go on for hours extolling the virtues of the arts and their contributions to our culture and how the pursuit of such frivolous things, enrich our lives and give it meaning.

I am thankful to my parents who supported me in my desire to be an artist and the teachers who helped me along the way.  Despite the ups and downs to following my dream of being an artist and chasing the “frivolous pursuits,” I never looked back thinking…….gee I wish I had become a doctor……no offense to the medical arts…..some of my best former students have gone on to become doctors.

2 thoughts on “Frivolous Pursuits

  1. Wow. Really, what a great non-filtered response to the mom? Good on ya. This post just went straight to my guts, in a good way, it’s a solid rallying-cry. Thanks again for the inspiration! I’m going to re-post this for some of my FB friends who could use these words today (excellent timing.)


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