What to do if your kid expresses interest in the arts for a living
November 12, 2010
I’m still on my encouragement kick.
My parents are incredible proponents of the arts, and before we even entered high school my brother and I had seen dozens of musicals, plays, ballet, symphony concerts, and museums. We both had years of piano lessons, art classes, were in school choirs, and worked on every play in high school. I have a picture somewhere of both of us on stage in a community theater production of South Pacific. Rob went on to do quite a bit of acting in college and after as well.
So I don’t think it came as any surprise to them when both my brother and I declared that we wanted to be artists. Writing for me, theater for Rob. And the encouragement never slacked. They always said, go for it.
But we also had a saying in my family: “As long as you can pay the rent.” That is, our family has a great love of the arts, but we also have a rather pathological work ethic. We could do anything, as long as “anything” included supporting ourselves as productive members of society. Looking back, I have to wonder if that was a key.
What “as long as you can pay the rent” means: There is no shame in the day job. After finishing a graduate degree in scenic design, Rob had the CAD skills to land a job as a draftsman at a furniture manufacturer before finding a position in his field as technical director at an arts-magnet high school. In the meantime, he was designing sets for local theater groups on the side. He’s now the technical theater director at Linfield College. Earning a living making and teaching art.
I worked in a bookstore for several years, which turned out to be a great primer in the publishing business. After that I worked as an administrative assistant for 8 years before quitting to write full time. These were low stress jobs that meant I still had the energy to come home and write every day. And they paid the rent.
My mother tells stories about how much flak she got from her peers when they heard Rob was majoring in theater and I was majoring in English. They told her, “Aren’t you worried they won’t be able to find jobs and they’ll just move back home?” Their kids were majoring in computer science, because that’s where everyone in the early 90’s thought all the good jobs were going to be. Flash forward to 2000 and the famous dot com bust — guess whose kids couldn’t find jobs and moved back home? Meanwhile, Rob and I chugged along, enjoying constant employment.
So, your kid wants to go into the arts. Here’s what you do:
- Encourage. (The way I look at it, you can either be the person they thank in their Oscar speech, or the horrible anecdote in their memoirs. Which would you prefer?)
- Help them research what it takes to be successful in their particular area. Help them set goals and make a plan to achieve them.
- Realize (and make sure they realize) that you’re not expected to support them financially for the rest of their lives, and that there is no shame in day jobs. If they’re working part time as an administrative assistant or cashiering at the supermarket, don’t ever ask when they’re going to get “a real job.” (I gotta say, a crummy day job is an incredible motivator for persevering in a professional artistic pursuit. And for continuing to persevere, because I don’t ever want to go back.)