The first question that any artist is familiar with when they decide to be an artist is, “What if you fail?” It’s asked of the writer, the painter, the actor, the singer, once they decide that they will allow their creative ability to dictate the flow of their life.

Someone will use your art to decorate their dorm, or talk about their favorite TV show, and when you’re sitting alone on a park bench, drawing in your notebook, someone will assure you that you really are very good.

“Can you sing for my wedding?” “Can you edit this paper for me?” “Can you do my senior photos?” These and many more favors will be asked of you, ostensibly because people recognize that you have a talent in a certain area.

But there is a divide. That divide comes when you announce to the world that you would like to take this small flame of passion and grow it into professionalism. When you decide that doing yearbook was instrumental for you and you’d like to do more of that, or that you would like to graduate from striking “their’s” and “they’re’s” from the papers of grad students to doing it for professional authors.

This divide will be apparent once the artist is inundated with an unceasing onslaught of questions that concern no less than their very survival. “How are you gonna make money?” “You know, the art world is really competitive.” Or you may even face mild derision at a subject matter that dares not to be STEM-related.

The same people that assured you that you really were very good will now question your ability to acquire more skills of your craft, as if decorating their dorm room was where they marked the threshold of your abilities.

The words “brave” and “wise” will grow ever farther apart as you are told that you are “brave” for your path, but sense that no one thinks you wise for it. You will be left wondering where in the timeline of the lexicon courage came at the price of folly.

On the artist’s shoulders are placed existential questions of being, and the question of failing. If they are not careful, their soul will die the death of a thousand cuts, the creative spirit mauled to death by a daily jaguar, demanding that they justify their existence.

We do not place these burdens on others. Regardless of how difficult medical school can be, medical students are rarely asked, “What if you fail?” After all, not all who enter medical school are prepared for the rigors thereof.

Regardless of the loans necessary for many students (loans that you will be responsible for if you graduate or flunk out), they are rarely asked how they will pay down their debt.

Regardless of how likely it is that they will need one, an artist will always be asked about their “fallback plan” before the medical student.

What is it that we assume medical students have that will get them through grueling years of study that we assume authors do not have to deal with years of editorial rejection? Do we truly believe that doctors do not have financial problems? What is the difference between working at Starbucks all day and toiling on your novel at night, and working 16 hours for a hospital that doesn’t pay you?

And is there an inherent value difference between saving a life and making one worth living? A patient living in a world in which there was nothing aesthetically pleasing to enjoy would surely suffer as much or more than one who was not here at all.

Whatever they believe is missing in the artist is not. Whatever they believe the artist does not provide to the world, they do. And whatever questions they fail to ask all other types of students, they should.

Because anyone can fail, and anyone can succeed, provided you really are very good.


Photographer: Jeff Eaton