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Who Designed that Chair? Fighting the Starving Artist Myth

Piper Matthew

I’ve been drawing since I can remember, and it was so much so that in kindergarten, I filled the wall with at least 20 paintings in one day. This continued in middle school, where my main joys were split between saxophone and drawing. I would became friends with  my art teachers.

I distinctly remember in eighth grade, one art teacher asked everyone to raise their hand if they believed they were an artist. Only one person raised their hand in a class of 25 students. The teacher yelled, “Wrong! Everyone of you is an artist! If you disagree with me you can go to the principal’s office!” The next time he asked, we all raised our hands. That was the first I thought that being an artist was could be a valid career. 

Charcoal Drawing, Piper Matthew

Freshman year, I made two disastrous decisions.  I dropped band and spent way too much time playing sports I hated. By the time it was sophomore year, I was bored and upset.  

I knew if I didn’t change anything, I would suffer.I went to my parents and told them, (rather than asking) that I was done pretending to like sports and that I was going to find art classes outside of school to help me improve. To my surprise, they allowed it, and I’ve been forever grateful. Once junior year came around, I returned to band by joining not just jazz band, but wind ensemble, all town wind ensemble, symphony orchestra, pit orchestra for musicals, and marching band to later become a section leader.

With art and music back in my life I was ecstatic and happy.  When I thought about what I was going to do in life, the arts rang loud and clear.

However, I was mainly alone in this passion. My entire family had studied science or business. If they weren’t doing that,  they were dreaming of becoming  a professional athlete.

“No you don’t, you’ll starve.”

That’s what my father said when I told him that I wanted to be an artist. I was so upset I couldn’t respond, so I just walked away in silence. This was my first personal experience with the uphill battle artists face against being told that  you can’t make a living in the arts,let alone be considered a viable lifetime career.

At a family event, my friend and I told my neighbor that we were going to study art in college. She said, “What are you going to do with that?”

Art School Admissions Portfolio

Her reply struck me as quite rude. I’ve noticed in other situations that when the conversation of college came up for people in science, business, and math, reactions were always excitedly inquisitive. If someone was going to be a college athlete, people would ask ‘what team?’ with great interest.

Looking back now, I’m glad my neighbor asked what I was going to do with an art degree. I started pointing out everyday objects that artists and designers produce, to show her just exactly what we could do with an education in the arts. I hope changed her perspective. Every piece of furniture in a house has to be designed. All packaging and advertisements are a form of graphic design.Every television show is an intense collaboration of the arts working together.

I’ve learned that most people just don’t know much what it means to be an artist. Many people would assume that their entire experience with art is ‘that art class in school.’ In reality we are surrounded by art and design.

Now, when I encounter people who question art as a valid profession I just simply point out all the art surrounding us, bringing up the question “who designed that?”

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