Art Doesn’t Feel Like Home Anymore

Photo by Nick Collins on Unsplash

I remember the day I was accepted into my BFA college program. After a series of devastating rejections, something had finally worked out. I finally felt like the puzzle pieces were starting to come together and like my future was beginning to unfold. Choosing to go to art school in a world that views art as a hobby, not a career was not an easy choice to make. The majority of my friends were choosing typical degrees at typical universities, and then, there was me. I chose to pursue a major I didn’t even know existed until it was time to start applying to colleges. As a normally cautious and calculated individual, this decision was an extreme deviation from my typical behavior. I studied hard, I worked hard, and I did everything I was supposed to do all of the time, and yet, when it came to one of the biggest decisions I had ever made in my life, I took a chance on a path that was flagged with risks.

How could I choose to study art when I had always done so well academically? How could I ever think that I would have a job after obtaining a degree in Theatrical Wig and Make-Up Design? How could I throw everything I had ever worked for away to follow a dream like this? At that time, I don’t remember if I even considered any of those above questions. I was excited. I was disillusioned. And I was so certain that I was making the correct choice. I was following my dreams in a world that worked so hard to discourage us all to do so; I was finally rebelling after 18 years of following all of the rules.

My AP English teacher begged me to reconsider my choice and strongly encouraged me to study English instead. Stubbornly, I stuck to my plan and was determined to create a life for myself that I not only loved wholeheartedly but was also deeply proud of. In the moments when my faith in my future faltered, I always pictured myself sitting at a desk, 10 years from that moment and wondering, “what if?” I didn’t know much about what exactly I wanted out of my life, but I couldn’t shake the fear of spending the rest of my life wondering how far I could have gone if I had only tried for what I really wanted. So despite all of the pushback and the fear surrounding my rebellious choice, I stuck to my plan and became an art student.

It was easy to imagine how awesome my life was going to be before I actually started living it. As a Pisces, I have a tendency to spend the majority of my life inside my head, dreaming up big dreams that most likely will never come to fruition. Once I stepped foot onto my college campus, my head was violently dragged out of those clouds and planted directly into the harsh reality I suddenly found myself in. I was incredibly unprepared for the level of difficulty my coursework and schedule presented me with; I had always been involved in art, but never lived and breathed it 24/7. I was easily one of the least talented people in my conservatory class, and for the first time in my academic career, I found myself deeply concerned about the grades I would be getting. As someone who always worked and studied as hard as she could, I was used to getting good grades that reflected that work and effort. However, art school cared very little about how great you were at reading, writing, and regurgitating information and a lot more about being the next prodigy in your discipline.

I found out that in art school, even if you do your assignments correctly if your style of art doesn’t match up with what your professor’s preferred artistic style is, you don’t get the good grade you had hoped for. Art school taught me that art is actually more about creating things that appeal to others and a lot less about creating anything deeply meaningful. You had to learn how to tear others down to survive the group critiques and how to build up your walls so the other students couldn’t get to you. I spent as much time crying and distraught over my work as I did creating it; what was once my favorite thing in the world to do became a nightmare.

Somehow, I made it through four years of producing subpar art and managed to graduate with my BFA. I was entirely disillusioned about what my future would look like when I graduated and happily skipped away from my university with a degree that the majority of the world viewed as disposable. The struggle has most definitely been real since I graduated seven years ago, and in the last few years especially, I have really begun to wonder if ultimately, I made the wrong choice to pursue my dreams.

I don’t want to sound horrifically negative or like I am condoning ignoring your dreams to instead pursue something deemed “practical,” but the last seven years have stripped almost all of the joy art has ever given me out of my life. From being consistently underpaid and undervalued to being dropped in a moment’s notice at the first sign of a looming crisis, working in the arts has proven to be utterly exhausting. I have had many jobs that I have loved so deeply, and for those, I am truly grateful. However, love does not pay your bills. Loving your job cannot replace the sleep you have lost or the relationships you have destroyed due to being overworked. I will never be able to get back all of the social gatherings and family parties I have missed over the last seven years because I was buried under a pile of work. I will never get back the thousands of dollars I have invested into art supplies that have helped me create amazing things, but sadly, little to no profit. I am exhausted. I am losing money. And on most days, I have no desire to even practice my art.

In a world where artists are now content creators, the raw beauty of art has been reduced to creating social media posts to cater to the masses. A few seconds now determine whether or not our art is worthy; something that took you five hours to make can get destroyed on the internet in less than a minute. We are no longer making art to heal ourselves and those who come in contact with it; we are making art to gain likes and shares. We are making art to gain popularity, and when we don’t receive that instant gratification, we feel as if we have failed. We have failed our followers. We have failed ourselves. I watch as posts containing my work get deleted after a day because not enough people have liked them. All of my worth as an artist has been reduced down to a tiny red heart button; it has nothing to do with my portfolio or work ethic. My worth as an artist is determined by millions of strangers I will never even meet. Millions of strangers who know absolutely nothing about me and yet, they have my entire life in their hands.

What has the artistic world come to?

I am told that my work is cliche, and then I see someone else posting something eerily similar, and they go viral. They are celebrated, and I am always wrong. It’s exhausting, mentally and physically. To continuously produce and pour yourself out only to be torn to shreds by the very people who you are trying so desperately to reach is devastating. It is debilitating. It is the reason why I can’t write anymore or post photos of my make-up artistry. It is the reason why I have begun tucking everything away inside of myself again because I see no value in inviting others in only to have them destroy me.

If my work is cliche, then why am I even trying? Why do I keep sitting here and writing to an audience that does not want me? Pursuing what I love has now taken that love from me; art has been my safe place my entire life, and now, I am terrified of it. I am terrified to share something and see it be rejected by my peers. I am terrified to pursue my passions in a graduate program after being told my work wasn’t good enough to do so. I am just so terrified that all of those years ago I made the wrong decision, and that now, eleven years later, I am being forced to face that fact.

Where do I even go from here? Graduate school doesn’t want me, and freelancing hasn’t been any more welcoming. I have given so much of myself for so long that I don’t even know myself anymore. I have no definite plans for my future; no path seems inviting or worthwhile. I am stuck here and wondering if this is the end of my artistic career. Is this the point when I finally tell everyone around me that they were right, I should never have pursued something like this?

I can’t stop thinking about how I was voted most likely to succeed in high school and how all I have done is fail. I am embarrassed to even discuss my career with anyone because I am afraid of the disappointment I will face. I am afraid of the “I told you so’s” and the eyebrow raises. I am afraid of starting over after always being so sure that I was on the right track. I am afraid of what happens when I admit that I was wrong. I am afraid that I will never be able to go any farther than where I am right now.

Art has always felt like home to me, but now most days I just want to escape it. I don’t find the comfort I used to in creating things; everything just makes me stressed out now. I can’t see the value or the beauty in my own work because I am too focused on how it never measures up to what everyone else around me is making. I feel like I have spent my entire life pretending I was an artist, and I am wondering if it is time to finally give up on maintaining that facade. Instead of dreaming of a life where I create art all day, I have started dreaming of what it would be like to have a 9 to 5 that I stop thinking about once I leave for the day. I dream about having a normal job with a normal life that doesn’t make me prove my worth to strangers on the internet in order to survive. I have started dreaming of all of the things I always ran away from.

I am wishing for the life I swore I never wanted and wanting so badly to take all of the career decisions I have made back. I thought that by choosing this path, I would never have that moment of wondering “what if?”. What I never realized is that “what if?” comes in many different packages and that even our dreams can be so lonely.

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Becky Curl

Becky Curl

Freelance Make-Up Artist & Teacher. Wig & Make-Up Designer. Freelance Writer. Coffee, dogs & pop-punk are my life. MFA student at Roosevelt University.