Sunday, December 1, 2019

Being an Artist

I’ve loved drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Whether it was getting my hands and parents’ walls dirty with finger paints at age five, or losing all concept of time with chalk pastels at age 15, art has consistently been something I’ve enjoyed. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always listened when my mind rang out to me to do something I loved.

In high school, I had one goal in mind: get into a prestigious university. I worked hard to take the most rigorous classes and succeed in them in hopes impressing some admissions officer, so taking an AP art class was never a priority. And yet I vividly remember weekends when I felt overwhelmed preparing for midterms or tests, instead of studying, I spent 6+ hours drawing a portrait of my mom, or my backyard. Drawing was my stress-reliever, a space I only relied on when I needed to decompress. My biggest regret is listening to my advisors and teachers who insisted I take AP Physics over AP Studio, or AP Chemistry over AP Photography. Only after taking this class and reflecting on my time in high school do I realize that my passion to draw has always been there, I’ve just let noise distract me.

I’m so glad I took this class, not only because it has given me some balance in my STEM-heavy schedule, but also because it has forced me to consciously set time aside for something I love, and actively listen to my instincts. I’ve blocked out the chatter in my life and reclaimed a sense of my own voice. This class has given me a chance to express my creativity in ways that I never could in my math or economics classes. Since high school, I have always focused on the next step - whether that meant getting into Duke, or getting the best job. For too long I’ve discounted the whispers in my head that screamed “draw”. Now, more than ever, I’m listening to the part of me that wants to explore art. Regardless of what I pursue in the future, my journey as an art student is not over. I’ve promised myself to never silence that part of me.

While I’m fortunate that this art class has given me that awareness, I’m not sure many other Duke students who aren’t fully aware of their art passions will find the same clarity. Even in writing this, after formally enrolling as an “art student” for the semester, the concept of considering myself an “artist” is foreign to me. So I can only imagine how isolated students who only consider art as a side hobby must feel. Perhaps it’s because Duke is not an arts school in the traditional sense. I feel as though Duke breeds pre-professional students, who are encouraged to pursue their diverse interests, but not to fully explore them beyond a hobby. It’s disappointing, since all the resources to pursue art and be an “artist” are present; there are constantly events at the Arts Annex, and events run by student organizations trying to give students an art community to engage with. Perhaps then allowing “artist” to become part of students’ identity must materialize naturally and independently. Duke does all it can in encouraging people to listen to their art instincts, but considering my experience, it’s up to each student whether or not they will have an open ear.

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