How to Become an Artist or Die Trying

We all have dreams when we’re young. Mostly, they’re not very realistic. After all, society’s need for cowboys, Indians and knights isn’t what it used to be, and we can’t all be astronauts either.

Me, I wanted to be an artist. I could draw quite well and even though I’d never been inside a museum, I knew about famous painters like Rembrandt and Picasso.

My parents were less than thrilled when I told them. This is how it went, more or less.

“You want to be a what?”

“An artist. You know, paintings and shit.”

‘Don’t you use that kind of language with me, young man.”

‘What? Like artist?”

“You know very well which words, smartass! Dad, come over here and listen what your son wants to be when he grows up.”

“He knows what he wants to be? Great! And he hasn’t even started school yet. What is it son? You want to be an electrician like your dad?”

“No, dad, I want to be an artist. You know, paintings and… well, paintings.”

“Hmm, an artist, huh. Well, you draw a mean horse, I’ll give you that. But, you know, son, we’re not always gonna be around to feed you, you know.”

“What do you mean, dad?”

‘I mean there’s no money in it. Can’t make a living as an artist. Well known fact. Look at whatsisname, Van Gogh. Cut off his own ear because no one wanted to buy his stuff. Damn right, too, if you ask me. Any child could do a better job. Square heads and all them limbs in the wrong places…”

“I think that’s Picasso, dad.”

“Whatever. These artsy types all sound the same to me. Bums and tramps, the lot of them. Dirt-poor, they all are.”

“I actually think Picasso is very rich, dad.”

“Yes, well, some of them get lucky, that’s all. But most of them don’t have two pennies to rub together. No, you’re much better off learning a decent trade. You can’t go wrong with that, believe me, I know.”

“Yes, I … I suppose you know best, dad.”

“Of course he does. Learned his trade the hard way, your father did. Always provided for us, even when times were bad. Didn’t have a penny to his name when I married him — that was in the War, mind you — but he studied evenings and learned on the job, and look where he is now.”

“Where is he now, mom?”

“He’s in a decent job, that’s where he is, making a good living, too. Even got his own moped to drive to work. He’s done well, and it didn’t come easy, I can tell you.”

“So … I can’t be an artist, then?”

“Of course you can. Drawing is a great hobby. Look at that nice portrait you did of aunt Lena the other day…”

“That was actually a horse, mom.”

“A horse?”

“Yes, I like horses.”

“Hmm. Yes, of course. But you might try drawing the odd portrait every once in a while. People like it if you draw their portrait, you know.”

“I suppose. But what’s the use if I can’t sell them?”

“Well, far be it from us to stand in your way. You want to be an artist, go right ahead. Don’t mind us. We’re only your parents. What do we know? But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

“Now, why don’t you take your sketchbook and do a nice portrait of your mom?”

“Perhaps some other time, mom. I’m not really in the mood for drawing right now.”

So I gave up. I shouldn’t have but I did. Hey, I was still a kid, and I did as I was told. It left a void, though, which I never filled with anything else. I didn’t do too well at school and joined the workforce at age fifteen as an apprentice printer.

I’m not sorry. What’s done is done. But it’s never too late to start anew. Every day’s a new beginning. Below are a few drawings I did when I was ten. They’re not bad for a ten year old, but I must admit I haven’t progressed all that much. In the coming months, I’m going to see how far I can take this.

For a wonderful account of a young boy who doesn’t let himself be distracted from his vocation, read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. This link will take you to Amazon’s $4.22 Kindle edition. I read the book when I was a teenager and it made a deep impression. You may also want to read the sequel: The Gift of Asher Lev.

Copyright © 28-10-2017 Theo van der Ster

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