The margins of my notebooks are filled with small drawings of trees. Little cartoon balloons drift up past the branches and wind themselves around my name. Stars litter the rest of the day’s note-taking.
When I was seven, I was dragged out of bed at 8:30 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday morning and sent to art school. We learned how to draw still objects, paint shadows and interpret movement. At the time, I was far more interested in drawing winding ivy and painting a sky with orange clouds. My art teacher was a wonderful mess of pastels, charcoal and paint smudges. Sometimes she’d take us on a field trip to the park and we’d draw on the sidewalk, collecting dirty tracks and fingerprints on the drawings.
“I’m going to grow up and be a painter,” I announced to my mother one day on the car ride home. Always the skeptic, she asked why I wanted to draw for a living. “Because it’s fun” didn’t satisfy her. She immediately put down the law, explaining that artists don’t make a lot of money and that a successful career in the arts was a long shot at best.
I was seven, and I was already imagining my bankruptcy, loan debt and homelessness as an artist. For a long time, that was enough to keep me away from artistic pursuits. But as the classes got harder and the notes got longer, my margins slowly began to fill up. On particularly boring days, entire pages would be overflowing with little cats climbing suns and starfish playing badminton.
And then there was writing.
I’m obviously no stranger to the written word. As a reporter, my primary focus is turning interviews into readable, engaging stories. But an interest doesn’t stop at the required work. I’ve been writing short poems, stories and narrations for as long as I’ve been doodling. Most of it is borderline senseless. One story involves a princess who has turned purple and can’t seem to switch back. She ends up eating plums for all eternity, and turning into the Sugar Plum Fairy. Another focuses on Ludwig the Lunar Explorer. He dreams about going to the moon and builds Styrofoam models of shuttles.
At what point does a person become an artist? Is it after the first poetry reading, gallery showing, album release or novel publication? Does it have anything to do with talent, or is interest and passion enough? And if you’re a self-proclaimed artist going about your artistic ways, is that your career?
There should be classes devoted to this. Entire lecture halls would be filled with searching faces, waiting for the knowledge of professors to pour down on them. I would take a class. How many people enjoy guitar, love drawing and want to write poetry, but have been told it’s not a viable career? And what does it take to really become an artist?
There are classes devoted to perfecting arts. There are classes detailing the transition from art theory to execution. But why aren’t there classes that sit the student down and talk through the intricacies of life outside of school?
My entire perception of the working world relied on the conversation with my mother about starving artists. For the next decade of my life, I thought that to be successful you needed to be a lawyer, a doctor or a business woman. It didn’t help that my high school was science-oriented and everyone wanted to work in research or medicine. It wasn’t until I got to the University that I realized there were people doing other things with their life. That I didn’t have to follow a pre-determined path.
I usually bring my laptop to class, and so my doodles have dwindled down to whenever I have a stray piece of paper and a pencil. I can’t sit still, though. I have such trouble keeping focused when I’m not moving my hands, and so it’s possible I’m inclined to be an artist due to genetics.
I don’t even know what I’m going to do with my life. And as a junior, that’s terrifying. But I don’t want to sell out and settle. I want to explore the margins, the things ignored, forgotten and repressed. I want to doodle everywhere.