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.)

15 Responses to “What to do if your kid expresses interest in the arts for a living”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I would imagine that beyond helping kids learn the business of art, modeling and teaching good personal finance skills would be helpful.

  2. Jim Van Pelt Says:

    Nice post, Carrie.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by torforgeauthors, Kathryn Gaglione. Kathryn Gaglione said: Another great post by Carrie Vaughn about encouraging kids in art-related fields: http://bit.ly/9Pd7Kg […]

  4. Mom Says:

    I tell Carrie & Rob that I am living vicariously through them. I always had an interest in writing and theatre, but did not follow through. I was still of the generation when women were told to be teachers, nurses, or secretaries, but just on the cusp of more opportunities opening up. It’s exciting to see what they have both achieved! I am very proud of them.

  5. izzybella Says:

    I was simultaneously inspired and amused by this post. Inspired, because my parents reacted the exact same way as yours did when I obtained my BFA in theatre. I do have a day job that I actually like which gives me the funds to do the theatre I actually love. Amused because of this:

    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?”

    I do, in fact, live with my parents. I used to get so frustrated with the inevitable raised eyebrows when people discover I live at home, but I’m over it. I needed a room-mate and I get along fabulously with my parents. I pay market value for rent, contribute to food and utilities and still help around the house (they are NOT EITHER chores!!)

    Carrie & Rob’s mom: you are awesome! I’m guessing they’re also really proud of you.

  6. carriev Says:

    You know, whatever works. I think what I was trying to deconstruct the _assumption_ that English major/arts major = useless layabout. When in fact, lots of people live with their parents for lots of reasons that have nothing to with whether or not they majored in theater…

    Hi, Mom! Hey — you can still take up writing or theater! (We’ve talked about this…)

  7. Alan Kellogg Says:

    What’s Rob’s stage name? I doubt it’s Robert Vaughn, unless he’s a lot older than you.

  8. Vickie B Says:

    Carrie’s Mom: Yes you can still take up writing and theater, listen to your daughter.

    My 7 year old is in artist’s mode. She will turn the spare room across from her bedroom into an artist’s studio where she can teach art, draw art, and sell art from her Little Tykes table in the driveway next summer to go with her tomato sales.
    She is also going to be one of the Three Little Pigs in Mini-Singers at her elementary school. “I get to act and say lines!” She’s diggin’ it.

    We will encourage the same way your mom did, Carrie. Be able to pay the rent and do what you love however it works out.
    Oh, and she wants to draw children’s books…

  9. ThomasS Says:

    My cousin has a MS in English, after 15 years of making a living writing grants for groups, is now back in school for her Phd. She does very well and has matched or been within 10K of me all along the way.

    I took the techie path, I know she likes her job, me I can’t wait until I retire.

  10. FD Says:

    That ‘real job’ thing really narks me. I trained horses as my main primary job for years, and OK, I didn’t make silly sums of money doing so, but I could pay the rent, put a little away, and was consistently employed and fully self supporting from age 16 onwards. WTH doing something you love is considered ‘not a real job’ I will never know.

  11. izzybella Says:

    Yep, I know exactly what you mean! There isn’t as much respect for liberal arts degrees as there is for a “useful” degree: something in science, math, business, etc. I do occasionally wish my mind worked that way because there’s definitely more money to be had in those types of career fields. On the other hand, I’m pretty happy getting to do what I love best. Wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world.

    Carrie’s mom, your daughter speaks true. One of the most active people in theatre community where I live and work retired about five years ago-took acting classes, fell in love with it, and now pretty much has the market on all the (as he calls them) “awesome old dude roles.”

    ThomasS, more power to your cousin!! I love stories about people making money from fine arts degrees. 😀

  12. Jackie Says:

    Actually, if you want to be successful in business the degree to get isn’t necessarily business, you are better off with a good liberal arts degree from a good teaching school. (Teaching school = they care about what their teachers teach, and what their students learn).

    Any work that you can make a living at while it makes you glad you do it is a real job. While a college degree isn’t a bad thing, it’s not the only thing either.

    And living with your parents just means you’re a part of a new trend back to extended families living together. Especially if you’re a contributing member of the household.

  13. Tracey Says:

    My daughter wants to be a sculpture artists, or a cartoonist. She’s 12 1/2. We make sure she’s stocked in clay and art supplies.

    Because as a parent, I encourage following the dream, wherever it leads.

    Great post!


  14. […] Carrie Vaughn has a great post on how parents can support kids who are budding artists, writers, act… She also has two previous posts on the same topic. […]


  15. […] sacks of gold.  Do also scroll down to see the “Ten most hated jobs.”  As part of my encouragement kick: when a kid in your life tells you they want to be a writer or artist, and you tell them they […]


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