Within the past year, I’ve encountered opinions and thoughts that had never entered my perspective until I began studying art in higher education, which I think comes partially because in high school, people would call what I call a major, a hobby. They assumed I would put my ballet shoes in the back of my closet once I had walked across the stage and grabbed that high school diploma. I, however, couldn’t leave a part of myself on a shelf only to be dusted off when I was nostalgic. Therefore, I am studying dance and musical theatre, and with that have come the stereotypes and stigmas and the same few follow-up questions when people find out how I’ve decided to spend my college education. This letter is to encourage, educate, and endorse.
You’ve begun journey quite unlike most of the people you graduated high school with. While they study biology and math and political science, you’ve gone head-first into a very nontraditional field. (Now, this is not to put the arts on a pedestal, or to discourage those studying other things, it is simply focusing on the arts as a means of shedding light on the bigger picture). College students are constantly bombarded with questions as they head home on Christmas break, and my favorite one of all is:
“What will you do with that?”
When this question worms its way into conversation, it’s easy to get defensive, frustrated, and discouraged. Instead, allow that to be an opportunity to share your reasons for major choice, and all the possibilities that come with that. College is meant to open your eyes to the limitless opportunities ahead of you, not to narrow your chances for success. This is your chance to enlighten your skeptical relatives. The arts are all around us; I saw a sassy little quote on Pinterest the other day, something to the effect of “if you don’t support an art major, never watch another movie, never listen to music again, never visit a museum, read a book, or play a video game…” If you get past the saltiness, there’s some truth in there. Art is EVERYWHERE: movies and plays are filled with actors and dancers, musicians make car rides pass more quickly, graphic design draws our attention to certain labels and clothing, artwork brightens up our walls, photos capture the memories we hold most dear. And you know what, somebody has to help create it.
Not only is it in places we don’t think to look, I truly believe that it’s necessary for us. I did a mini research project in high school on the impact of arts in school children. I found studies that showed children who took arts classes, played musical instruments, went to ballet, and did theatre scored highly on tests, were able to critical think at a well-developed level, and had strong public speaking skills. This actually surprised me; at the time, I didn’t register how vital it is to have art in one’s life.
Although attempting to get a job in the arts can be daunting, there are more opportunities than you’d think (well at least, than I thought). Never let the fear of ambiguity hold you back; in fact, never let fear hold you back. It is completely natural and healthy to be afraid, but don’t let that fear hinder you from achieving all you were meant to do. There is a place for you to do what you love, sometimes it just has to be searched for. Nothing worth having ever came easily.
My next to piece of advice is to truly examine your own intentions and goals. Know that you know why you do what you do, and where to you want to go with that. Write out short-term and long-term goals. Take some time to think about what it is, specifically, that you love about what you do.
When I actually sat down and thought about what is compelling to me about theatre, I found the roots of my passion stemming from my desire to travel, my heart for people, and my need for honesty.
I love theater for its storytelling aspect. It is a powerful form of communication, unmatched by any other. I have never experienced a better form of teaching than theatre. It brings culture to one’s fingertips and makes the stories in a history textbook jump off the pages and into one’s imagination. It presents itself in such a way that information is retained for much longer than until the next exam. This is a career that demands transparency and strength in identity. I truly believe that good actors know who they are and where they stand, and are strong enough to show their true colors and admit their deficiencies. This is how they have the ability to be genuine when they tell stories on stage. Theater can change, or grow, or enhance perspective on politics, family, art, literature, and the world in general. Being able to step into another person’s shoes and become them is actually a very valuable lesson in empathy. It has taught me how to better see from another person’s perspective, which allows me the ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
Thanks for sticking with me this long, I’m to my final point. And this one is so important, you guys. Never EVER let anyone tell you that you are taking the easy way out. That you picked an easy major. “Oh, that must be so nice to just dance all day.” No.
The arts require people to be so much more in touch with their own bodies than the average human. Creating art is giving of oneself to make something beautiful, to say something important, to inspire change. Artists have to be vulnerable. It’s hard. It requires a leap out of their comfort zone. This is SO taxing. Those on the outside don’t see the hours spent in the practice rooms, the late nights rehearsing over and over again. The don’t see the patience it takes to wait for a layer of paint to dry. The brain capacity it takes to memorize lines. They only see the end result.
Please know that what you are doing is not simple, nor is it any less valid of a major.
So, Artists. Go out in confidence and help prove that the world needs people of all sorts, because we all bring different gifts to the table. Do what you were called to do, and the rest will follow.
I want to leave you with a challenge and something to think about. All this was very specific to artists, but I want you to substitute in other groups of people or things that you stereotype. Did you stop to think about the things you don’t see? What could be hiding under the surface? Think about how you feel when people try to put you into a box. Now apply it. Act on it. Learn from it.