I ran into a former student at the grocery this weekend. (This is a side effect of living close to where you work, something my father always recommended against. We lived within walking distance of the high school where he worked and where I was a student, and we couldn’t go anywhere without running into students [former and current], parents, co-workers, etc. I got used to sitting in the car and daydreaming for fifteen minutes after we’d gotten done shopping while he’d be stuck in conversation with somebody or other. The advent of the Game Boy was a boon to my childhood that can never be appreciated by the current generation. In my day, you sat and stewed and waited in your own thoughts.)
She has gone on from my humble literature classroom to a good in-state university, as I expected she would. What I didn’t expect was her choice of major: Geology.
When I wrote her a letter of recommendation to the same university, it was for their music program. She was a chorus student. An artist, too. Talented on both counts. And now, she’ll be studying rocks.
Her dad was with her, and he jumped right in there while I was trying to puzzle that one out. “I’m so glad we got her offa that art crap to do something worthwhile.” Boastfully, he said this. With a big smile on his face and his hand on her back. She, meanwhile, had that half-hearted smile kids get when their parents are bragging on them for something they know is not a big deal. And (and I’m sure I didn’t just imagine this) — a little bit of sadness in her eyes.
It was obvious that she’d gone in the geology direction — or at least in the offa that art crap direction — at her dad’s urging. And it seemed to me that she was not entirely proud of making this announcement to me.
I have a few thoughts about this:
- On the one hand, it doesn’t much matter to me what she’s studying particularly — just the fact that she’s gone on to college is a good thing. Because too many students don’t — especially from her school, her community..
- On the other hand, yes it does matter to me because she had a passion, and if her parent turned her away from that passion, then that’s a bummer.
- On the other other hand, I totally get dad’s perspective. The likelihood of making a living with your art is unfortunately remote. We have to make a living in the meantime, and that means having more skills in the set, more tools in the box. So I’m not exactly blind to his desire to push his kid toward a more “serious” option.
- On the other other other hand … Geology? Is this a field with tons of career opportunities that I never heard about? If so, that rocks. I’m not even sorry.
I dunno. Unfortunately, I see both sides of this issue in sharp relief. Parents have to do their best to give their kids the best chance in this world, so maybe a parent has the unpleasant duty of delivering the harsh truth and pushing his kid off the path of rainbows and daisies. But then, aren’t parents also supposed to encourage their kids not to settle for what’s “sensible” and chase their dreams? And doesn’t that mean occasionally chasing after a pipe dream and getting a degree in something worthless like music or drama? (cough, cough.)
Ultimately, I’m not bothered by her decision. No such decision is easy, and surely they spent a lot of hours deciding what was best for her. And I guess I’m not particularly bothered by the dad’s feeling on the matter either — it makes sense, if it seems a bit cold.
What I take issue with is the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing condescension. “We got her offa that art crap.”
Because art is a waste of time, right? Because nothing good comes of art, right? Because any endeavor that isn’t specifically geared toward putting more money in your pocket is fit only for the hippie unicorn-chasers, right?
No, sorry. Art matters.
If you trudge through your workday for the privilege of vegging out on the couch to watch the newest episode of your favorite TV show, art matters.
If you fantasize about getting high off of inhaling the crisp, fresh-smelling pages of a new book, art matters.
If you avoid water-cooler spoilers lest you have your favorite characters’ secrets revealed to you without the appropriate narrative foreplay, art matters.
If you turn on the radio or a podcast or an audiobook to save your soul from the monotony of your daily drive, art matters.
Art, in short, bloody well matters — it ain’t crap to be got off of. It may not always — or often — be financially rewarding. But in this life, there are other rewards than the ones and zeroes in your bank account. Art is the water of friggin’ life. And we could all use a drink.
I didn’t say this to him, of course. Polite society and all that. But I take a quiet pleasure in knowing that he will one day be figuratively eviscerated for his transgression against her creative spirit.
You know. Through her art.