Check Your Respect

I’ve never understood how people can cheer for adults playing professional sports and still form their mouths to question why someone would pursue the creative arts professionally. Athletes literally play a game for a living, but we question dancers? Artists? Writers?

Has capitalism gotten us so twisted that we only covet careers that bring us riches?

Maybe it’s not for me to understand. But, so it’s clear, in my house we respect the Arts as a profession.

My great uncle, Bernard Addison, was a professional jazz musician. He, like many musicians, made a living playing music. That was his real job. Because you don’t recognize his name like you might Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, means little. Do you know many doctors beyond your own? Doubtful. Yet, many physicians are out there curing and caring for folks every day. Fame has nothing to do with success.

I am a professional writer. J.K. Rowling I’m not. But with six books under my belt, I think it’s fair to say I could quit my “day” job if I wanted. In time! Despite the number of folks who may not have heard of me, my books are in bookstores and libraries across the nation. Their existence proves my ability to actually make money from this discipline. And I think both my agent and editor would be quite perplexed by those who don’t see writing as a viable career. As would my many author friends who rely on writing as their sole income.

Side Note: Of the Arts, writing seems to be the only one that everyone waves off as easy. Anyone with that belief, come holler at me for a little lesson in “Fear of the Blank Page.” Healthy fear. Respectful fear. But still, fear. If you’re absent of that, good luck writing for a living.

But I digress.

Here’s the crux of my annoyance with people’s utter disrespect for the professional arts:

My teen daughter wants to be a professional Ballet dancer, one day. This is something she’s made clear was her aspiration since about age 10. It is neither a passing fancy or a frivolous dream that her father and I are indulging until she settles on a “real” career.  The reaction people have when they hear that usually verges immediately on – poor dear, let me tell you why that’s such a bad idea.  Or – it’s such a long shot, I hope she has a back up plan.

Okay. Here’s what you should not do when talking to her or me about her desired career:

  • Tell her how hard it is

She knows this. Have you ever danced on your toes for six hours a day all summer while your friends sleep in? Well, she has. Pursuing Ballet is a grind. Technique is key and Ballet teachers are dedicated to the body form being classically correct. When she’s not studying for school or sneaking in a little social time for friends, she’s at dance. She and our entire family sacrifice for her to study Ballet. She knows hard.

  • Remind her how competitive it is

Is pursuing any job not? Are there not often hundreds of applicants seeking a single open position in a company? Ballet is no different. There are hundreds of Ballet companies out there. Just because you may know of only the bigs – American Ballet Company or New York City Ballet – doesn’t mean the others don’t exist. If she can’t find a single position within the many Ballet companies here in the U.S. or abroad – EVER- that would be an amazing feat.

  • Go on about how little dancers make

If she wanted to be rich she would have never chosen Ballet. If she’s okay with a life with little to no frills, then you should be okay with it too.

  • Justify your comments as if you’re just trying to make sure she knows what she’s in for

You’re assuming neither she, I or her father understand what’s involved with pursuing a career where subjectivity reigns. That’s insulting. You’re assuming she’s not doing her own homework by talking to her teachers or reading resources on life in that profession. You’re assuming your comments will somehow deter what’s in her heart.

My daughter is a beautiful dancer with a mother who continues to actively navigate the subjectivity of publishing. It’s not easy, but it’s damned sure not impossible. Don’t think we don’t have conversations about this all the time. She has a mentor who is clear on the rejection ahead. But also, a staunch cheerleader who knows what it’s like to have Art in you that you’re compelled to put out in the world.

Understand, we do this because we have to. Art is breathing for the artist. Please stop smothering us with your fears and concerns. Negative energy is the artist’s natural enemy. We have enough self doubt to fill a stadium. Don’t push yours on us.

Root for us.

Support our work.

Tell others about the artists you know.

We put beauty into the world. That’s never a bad thing.

10 thoughts on “Check Your Respect

  1. Welcome to my world. Imagine the reaction when you tell people, when asked “what you do,” that you sell books, on a website, written for our about people of African descent.

    Paula, I started as page for you on my website: would you mind sening me a bio? Also are there any videos of you that you like on the web that I can use as well?

    I also think we do ourselves by emphasizing STEM over liberal arts as well. I have a graduate degree in engineering so I’m all for STEM. But when our best and brightest work for Facebook we have a problem.

    1. Hi Troy. Thanks, I’ll get a bio over to you. No videos though. I’m just getting back into the thick of things book-wise, so I haven’t done much in the way of visits, signings or book trailers.

      I’m glad to know so many are co-signing this blog. I’m just tired of correcting people when they say their “real” job is XYZ as if a job in the Arts is not.

    1. Hi Sundee! I just included your Brendan Buckley in an MG giveaway. I love when the universe does its crazy thing. I haven’t talked to you in ages!

  2. It’s non-artists that need to read this. My niece showed an early interest in the visual arts, but seeing how much of a struggle it’s been for me, my sister told her it was a “useless” skill. So she’s quitting art and band and pursuing cheerleading instead. Somehow she doesn’t see how ironic that is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *