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An Artist’s Struggle to Please Parents

Updated on May 15, 2020
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Me working on a digital photo composite.
Me working on a digital photo composite. | Source

I Am An Artist

I am an artist. I used to feel guilty saying those words because I wasn’t sure if I could call myself that when I hadn’t sold much art or was not making a living wage doing art. Since then I know that an artist creates art. That is what I do every day. Even when I’m cooking or doing something else, I’m thinking art, so that makes me an artist.

My father tried his best to discourage art, telling me that I would starve to death, and artists didn’t make any money until they were dead. He said I wasn’t talented enough. Actually that’s not entirely true but often it could be. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t talk me out of what was on my heart from the beginning. Art.

Me working as an announcer on the radio.
Me working as an announcer on the radio. | Source

Career Choices

I understand what he was trying to do for me. It is true that artists don’t really make any serious money. You have to be seriously deranged or in love with art to pursue it as a career (maybe a little of both). But artists don’t go into art for the money; they go into art because they are possessed by the love of the craft and the drive to do art at any cost (even eating regularly). Dad was trying to prepare me for a harsh world that doesn’t care if you are gifted or talented. He wanted me to be self-sufficient. I really appreciate that about him now. Back then I felt unloved, unworthy, betrayed, and confused for having a passion for something he didn’t approve of.

As parents, I think the more important thing would be to believe in your children and not belittle their dreams. There is a difference in gently directing a career choice and completely dashing dreams.

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.

— Henry Ward Beecher

Cat Portrait

Famous Artists

There are many famous artists throughout history whose parents felt the same way. Michelangelo’s father wanted him to pursue a career in law, that would replenish the family fortune but couldn’t dissuade him from art, which he thought would ruin them financially. John James Audubon’s father wanted him to join the military and become an officer just as he had done, but the boy couldn’t pass the exams. He kept spending his time out in the forest drawing the birds. Beatrix Potter’s parents wanted her to get married and take her place in upper-middle-class society, but she spent all her time in her room drawing and illustrating rabbit stories. I suppose that puts me in among very good company.

My watercolor painting "Darling Angel"
My watercolor painting "Darling Angel" | Source

We have art so that we shall not die of reality.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Did you go against your parents to pursue some creative endeavor?

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Children’s Book, The Dot

In one of my favorite children’s books, an art teacher tells her students to create anything they want. At the end of an hour, the students all turn in their art except for one student who has a blank paper. She tells the teacher she can’t draw. The teacher says anyone can make art even if you only put one dot on the paper it’s art. So the student very angrily picks up her crayon and makes a stab at the center of the paper, exclaiming “THERE!” The teacher looks at it and nods. “Now sign it.” The next day all the students enter the classroom and notice that only one creation from the day before is framed and hanging behind the teacher. It is the dot. Everyone admires it and comments on how beautiful the dot is. But the girl who made the angry dot said, “I can do a better one than that,” and begins making more dots. She makes large ones and small ones and dots of all colors. Later she has an art show of her dots and people want her autograph. One day a child comes to her and says, “I wish I were an artist like you. I can’t draw anything.” The girl says, “Nonsense. You can make a mark, can’t you? Anyone who can make a mark can be an artist.” So she hands the child a piece of paper and says, “Here. Make a mark.” The child makes a slash across the paper and the girl looks at it and nods. “Now sign it.”

Painting a rose.
Painting a rose. | Source

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Those Who Can’t Do, Teach

After a while, I found I could teach art to both children and adults, even without a college degree or teaching credential. I wanted to encourage children to try, that creativity came from within and that they could do anything they tried hard enough. Plus, art has the added benefit of having no wrong answers. It’s not like math or science. Even if you make only one mark on the paper, it is still art. So my mantra became “never tell them they can’t do it”. Soon people began calling me “the encourager” everywhere I went. I figure if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything so why not. I always try to find the good in my student’s work and accentuate that. I may point out one thing that could be improved on, but I won't belabor the issue. Besides success in art is less about talent and more about being in the right place at the right time. Because of my father, there are several of my former students pursuing a career in art. One young lady lives in New York City designing for a shoe manufacturing company. Another dear student has become a fashion designer creating theatrical costumes for a drama troupe. One of my three daughters is not working for a video gaming company as a character designer.

My best advice is to become an encourager. It is sort of that old adage, that you catch more flies with honey. A sour disposition and constant nagging that your child will starve to death will only get a sour return and disappointment. I have to say my dad turned me into an encourager because I never wanted another person to feel their limitations but instead, their possibilities.

B is for Boy of the Red Twilight from the FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World.
B is for Boy of the Red Twilight from the FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World. | Source

When you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul… a small piece of someone else’s life.

— Anonymous
Support Your Local Starving Artist!
Support Your Local Starving Artist! | Source

Final Thoughts

Art is a matter of the heart. Even when things are unsure and the economy is in the tank, I will continue to do art. Writers write. Musicians make music. I make art. What could be better?


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