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A Letter to Aspiring Art Students

Recently, a freshman asked me whether she should follow her passion to become an artist, or obey her parents to study commerce. Feeling that this is a common dilemma for international students, I decided to publish my words here to help.


“I decided to publish my words ...”

Dear Fellow Art Lover,

You're facing a common dilemma for International students; I was there too. Therefore I'm gonna be very honest with you: I'm not proud of choosing to pursue art. Instead, I'm proud of being able to make a living with art. There's a big difference between passion and career, and that's the first thing you need to know when you make life decisions. 


“I'm proud of being able to make a living with art.”

I don't think your parents are wrong - it's hard to find jobs in the art field. But they're not completely right either, otherwise we wouldn't see new films and paintings and music coming out everyday. There ARE jobs available, for sure; they just might be as hard to get as for a business student to get into Goldman Sachs. The question is, are you good enough in either field to survive and thrive?



In the game of life, no one knows better until it happens. If you choose business rather than art, no shame. Maybe you're not meant to be the artsy type but a successful businesswoman after all. But if you do choose art, congratulations and be prepared! Whatever you do, you just need to be GOOD. ‍

So, enough jibber-jabbing. Technically what you need to do now is to enroll in several intro-level art classes and see in which one, if any, you do well. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses as an artist and as a person. Make something that will prove your talent to your parents and to your future employers. Join some art clubs and network. Ask your advisors about potential internships. These are all the first steps to try out if art is really the thing for you. 


“Make something that will prove your talent …”

Art is a very broad idea. What exactly do you want as a concentration? Studio art, media, music, art history, or art administration? You need to think it through. 

The kind of jobs available in art vary a lot, and there are those on the more "art" side and on the more "business" side. You can also combine them and find a balance. For example, art administrators are the people who run galleries/museums. I encourage you to do some research to find the one for you. 



In fact, it’s not like business and art can’t co-exist. My filmmaker friend at UVa made a short documentary about the students who pursue art and what is commonly conceived as the opposite of art - business, engineering, or science – at the same time. So the world is not just black and white!


“… the world is not just black and white!”

Don't worry, you’ve got plenty of time and chances to try things. Also don't be afraid of failing, because that's part of the journey. My most important advice is that you don't choose art just to disobey your parents, or to be an idealistic hero. There's a joke that any jobless twenty-something thinks he/she is a writer.

Go ahead; the thorny journey of glory awaits!





Read about the time Eris spent working at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC