“I’m going to art school”

Food for Thought

Watching my daughter navigate the American school system forces me to reinterpret my own college experience in the US because I didn’t know how other Americans perceived my choices. Back then, I had no choice but to make decisions based on Japanese cultural norms.

Now I realize just how rare it is for high school kids to choose to study fine arts. So far, I haven’t heard of anyone. None of her friends. None of the kids I hear about from other parents. I haven’t even heard of anyone planning to go to art school.

So I was on the extreme fringe. Naturally, because I went to art school, even after college, I was surrounded by artistic types. I didn’t realize how much of a bubble I was in.

From a parent’s point of view, I can see how scary it might feel to hear your child declare, “I’m going to art school to study fine arts.” It’s equivalent to saying, “I’m going to give up 75% of all opportunities in the world.” Those opportunities are also lucrative ones that allow you to enjoy normal lives.

Once your child makes this choice, there is no going back. It’s not impossible, but you have to be pretty lucky. It’s almost like starring in a porn video or physically transitioning your gender. Or at least it would feel like that to parents who didn’t study fine arts themselves (or didn’t star in porn videos themselves).

The main preoccupation of most parents is to keep all options open for their kids. Even if their kids might not be interested today, they don’t want to eliminate the possibility of working for Goldman Sachs or Google. So, if your kid chooses to study fine arts, as a parent, you’d be thinking, “But, what if she changes her mind later?”

Now I realize that the perspective my college friends shared in common was their conviction that they didn’t belong to the mainstream. For whatever reason, they weren’t interested in 75% of the world and were willing to rule them out at that age. For instance, back in the 80s, being gay or autistic might have forced that choice.

Now that the mainstream has become more liberal, I wonder what is making today’s kids choose fine arts.