Friday, April 19, 2019

Being an Artist at Duke; Rachel Tung

Art was a really big part of my childhood. I was a really quiet kid and liked to spend a lot of time in my imagination. Art was a way to make my imagination feel a little bit more like reality. I drew my favorite TV characters and I made toys out of paper and plastic wrap. I was lucky in that my parents provided me the space and the opportunities to explore my love for art and visual design. 

At some point, though, I learned how the rest of the world viewed art. I heard people talking about “starving artists” and saying things like “art is not a career, it’s just a hobby.” And I let all these stigmatized views of art get to me. Up to that point, I was certain that my future existed within the creative industry. But then I became afraid of art. So, I pushed art aside for a little, exploring other subjects in fields that I assumed were better valued by society. And I did find a genuine interest in another subject - neuroscience. 

I came to Duke as a neuroscience major and although I was enjoying my classes, I found myself naturally gravitating back towards the creative arts outside of my coursework. I wanted to practice design and I tried to find whatever opportunities I could to do so. I would create flyers and logos for student organizations and spaces. Eventually, I became so invested in it that I sought professional experiences off-campus and even traveled abroad to study graphic design. Throughout these experiences, I began to develop an identity as an artist and designer. I felt connected to visual art and design. Art and design was not just about making things look good, but also telling stories and building experiences. As my belief in design strengthened and I regained my passion for art and design, I decided to pursue it with full force. I switched to a psychology major after learning about human-centered design and looked for more on-campus opportunities to practice design. 

It is difficult, sometimes, to be an artist, especially as a Duke student. There are often negative reactions from people when they hear I want to be a designer. “Why would you take art classes at Duke?” “It’s hard to make a living as a designer.” I will never forget the look of concern on my high school friends’ faces when I told them I switched to a psychology major and wanted to work in the design industry. But the belief I have in art and design’s ability to shape the world, and the identity I am working to build, provides me a source of comfort and protection.

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