"You are lucky" says my mother. "You have a talent and you have know what you want to do your whole life."
I don't feel all that lucky right now, because I am afraid.
I was this afraid over a year ago when, two weeks before graduation, I gave up pursuing a Masters in Psychology to go to art school. The reason this decision was so fear-inducing is because I had spent the previous seven years thinking I wanted to be a Psychologist, all the while denying my desire...my "calling" to be an Artist.
I had spent the past twelve years watching my brave, strong, and single mother struggle to pay the bills and send her two daughters to college. I had chosen Psychology because of the financial security I thought came with it. If I became a Psychologist, surely I could end my family's financial woes, live comfortably, and do something I "liked." I could still do art, as a hobby, I thought....
During my senior year of college, I made the decision to do two separate Psychology and Art theses. I chose to focus both on the same subject: sexual assault and dating violence. I know, cheery right? Both theses required a huge time commitment.; my Psych thesis consisted of a three part study which incorporated an experiment and psychological assessments, my Art thesis consisted of a bed and nine lightboxes (see it here).
As I worked away each day in the studio and the Psych lab, a sort of realization set in. I actually looked forward to being in the studio, way more than going to the lab to grade assessments, crunch numbers, and run tests. So much more that, while I knew my Psych thesis was important, I felt my devotion to its cause falter and fade. But after many long nights, at least 50 redbulls, and with the encouragement and support from my wonderful family and friends, I finished both.
On the day that I defended my Psych thesis, people traveled by my poster, asked questions, said "hmm that's interesting" and walked on.
On the opening day of the art show, people entered the gallery and gravitated towards my piece "Monument." They viewed the photographs. They read the text. They absorbed the gravity of the subject. Some cried. But most importantly, people talked. My art became something more than just the images and objects in the room. It created a moment..an opportunity for dialogue.
That night I won the senior art prize (the Lynette Nielsen award). The committee announced the award and gave remarks: they said my piece gave them "hope for humanity" and that it was work worthy to be in a museum. I was floored.
Later people told me that my piece helped them confront their own sexual assault, talk about dating violence with family and friends, inspired them to help victims... I knew art could be powerful, but I did not know that I could harness and wield that power. And so, I realized that if I wanted to make a difference, to change the world, I would do it through art.
I try remind myself of this everyday, and each day my own fears and doubts threaten to steer me off my chosen path. Changing the world through art is a tall order. For the moment I am focusing on smaller steps.
My first step is to apply to (and be accepted to) an MFA program. Yay for more student loans! This stage has me in the studio every day after work from 5pm-bedtime creating art. I need to complete 20 pieces in total by December. So far I have 6 pieces completed. .. And I have to remember to eat, sleep and exercise...