When I grow up

By Hannah Burgess. Hannah, 18, is a student from Guildford, UK

It is easy for children to be the artists that Picasso believed them to be; especially now, when encouragement is promoted far more than deterrence, regardless of the activity in question.

It is also, however, easy to see his claim that grown-ups are not expected to be artists; those who pursue a career in the Arts are often frowned upon, and are called unrealistic and lazy. As children grow, they are encouraged to look into ‘proper jobs’, to put their efforts into academic subjects that will give them a pathway into the working world.

I recently saw a Tumblr post that claimed that a world without art is one that those who discourage artists would not want to live in. The basic gist of it centred around the fact that many people are blissfully unaware of what actually counts as ‘art’ in today’s society.

A world without art would be a world without music. There would be no Top 40 chart, no concerts to go to. The radio would be mindless chatter about recent events, probably focusing on politics, finance and other topics that many people can’t stand to listen to unless it suits their personal interests.

A world without art would be a world without performances. There would be no theatre, no TV shows, no movies. Actors and dancers would be non-existent, instead filling roles as accountants and lawyers instead of gaining our love and respect with jaw-dropping displays of talent.

A world without art would be a world without pictures. Not just your typical art galleries full of paintings and sculptures (though they would also be gone), but also in books and online. Any attempt to research for a project or attempt to learn about a topic would be done by reading block text with little colour and no diagrams. Visual learners would struggle to make sense of what they are being taught. There would be no more posting photos of your dinner on Instagram, or sending your friends hilarious videos of your cat.

A world without art would be a world without books. Textbooks and journals would still exist, but the beloved fictional books that you fall in love with as a child, or the thrilling novels you read as you grow older, would not be a part of your life. There would be no fictional characters to invest a part of your soul in. There would be no fictional worlds to escape to in times of difficulty.

Artists are not just people who produce paintings or sketches. Artists are people who make art. They are people who make our lives exciting, who provide us with methods to entertain ourselves when the seriousness of life is too much. They give us a way to escape from the real world when it seems like everything is going wrong and nothing will ever go right. We embrace this ability to leave our worries and troubles behind for a time, using the music, the movie, the novel, the painting, to make us feel something other than what we are trying so very hard to ignore.

And yet schools are constantly and consistently underfunding arts projects. Music departments struggle to provide access to lessons and instruments for their students; dance classes are smaller and shows further between because they have no rehearsal space and the demand is never high enough. Art students and aspiring authors are consistently seen to be pursuing ‘unrealistic’ careers, and are told that they are entering a world more competitive than any other career, despite the politics behind joining the right law firm or having to ‘climb the ladder’ in most professional companies.

Every child begins as an artist. Children have an intrinsic quality that allows them to see something magical in the world where an adult might not believe it exists. Their imaginations know no bounds and because of this they produce ideas that we can barely even comprehend. They can answer questions about worlds that don’t exist, give you the life story of their imaginary friend and design objects and technology that are beyond the realms of science but make perfect sense in context.

These qualities are stamped out. They are told to look at facts, to have dreams but not necessarily pursue them, to stop imagining things because they will never come to be. They become numbers: candidate numbers for exam entries, national insurance numbers for tax, employee number three hundred thousand and eighty-two at a company they didn’t ever imagine joining. Gone are their dreams of being astronauts, ballerinas, writers and painters. Instead, they are replaced with dreams of hopefully passing this class, this test, this year, of making it through a given amount of time without being told they are useless for not thinking in the way the system expects them to.

No one ever judges a person for being bad at art, at music, at dance; these, apparently, are skills that are awarded to only a given few, abilities that a child cannot master unless they have that ‘creative flare’. The second they are bad at maths, English or science, however, they are deemed lazy, stupid, doomed to fail. The difference between these two cases lies in how the inability is dealt with. A person who is better at maths is in no way superior to someone who is better at dance. A person who can recite the periodic table from memory is in no way superior to someone who can recite an entire Shakespeare play. A person who can recreate a Van Gogh almost to perfection is in no way better than someone who can write an essay on the benefits of linguistic standardisation.

Once they reach a certain age, children are forced into a world in which everything is a competition. They are encouraged to put their identity second to their drive to get a stable job, a stable home, a stable relationship. People fail to realise that stability in life comes only after one finds stability within themselves.

Art is not just a painting. Each and every person is in themselves an artist and a work of art. They are shaped, created by the things they experience and they shape and create others whenever they make an impact in their lives. Humankind is a work of creation; where would we be without the art that created it?

Picasso is right in what he says: every child is an artist. There is a perpetual struggle to continue being that artist in this world that promotes academics over creative arts. But that does not mean that we should give in to the struggle. It merely means that we have to push back harder, fight more forcefully, until the population realises that art is not a painting: art is a person who has a right to express themselves. Art is the very world we live in.

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