We Need To Encourage People To Be Artists


When reminiscing about high school, I have one story I have told very frequently about the worst day I ever had during my senior year, pre-calculus class.

Laughing with my best friend Annie, I looked up to see my math teacher, Mrs. Crow, passing back tests from the previous week, mine approaching my desk downward so the score wasn’t visible.
I was used to this, really. Math was not my strong suit and I certainly did not put forth the effort to improve much. I knew I could just barely pass and make it out of high school in a few months, never looking back on pre-calculus again.

Still laughing, I picked up the test and turned it over to see what my fateful grade would be this time.

In big red pen, next to my name, I saw the numbers: 8/80

The laughter immediately stopped, and was promptly replaced with uncontrollable tears (in the middle of class). I showed the test to Annie and her eyes got wide as she refused to show me her above average score. Long story short, Mrs. Crow noticed my outburst, and in her good nature, she called me to her desk and we figured out how to fix it over the following week.

I think I’ve told that story so many times because it was the first moment I can recall failing so miserably at something in school. I knew math wasn’t my strong area, but damn.

Seeing as this is my fifth year of college, I cannot say I am the Queen of successful academia, and staring at the empty pages of my debut novel, I am obviously an example of pure enthusiasm taking us only so far. I’ve always been on the cusp of the left brain/right brain battle, just getting by in school while I pursue just the bare minimum I can of my passions.

I wrote my first “book” when I was 7, at my grandma’s house over the summer. She had a nice computer and a quiet house so I spent most of my time there, writing an almost incoherent slew of words I deemed as my first story. I wrote another epic novel in 3rd grade, about an unrequited love between two ten-year-olds. My teacher told my mother I was too imaginative and used too much dialogue (a barrier I still run into while writing), and my mother told my teacher to shove it.

I was lucky to have the sanctity of English class every day. I was lucky to miserably fail a math test and still feel happiness two periods later, when I walked into Mrs. DiFranco’s English class and knew what she was teaching before she even taught it. I am lucky to be a part of a group of people who engineers, mathematicians, political leaders and doctors can respect because they rely on me to edit their papers. I feel incredibly lucky to have confidence in my creative career path because standardized testing, college core classes, and historical discoveries have shown the importance for my talent, and allowed me to feel like what I can do is valuable.

My sister isn’t so lucky.

In many ways Sarah and I are similar. We are both relentlessly stubborn, painfully pale, fighters of feminism, and equally obsessed with our dog, Susan. Our boldest, and most boisterous qualities seem to be traits we share, leading people (our parents) to say, “You two are exactly alike”. It’s days when I want to kill her, and good days when I only spend time with her, that I realize how different we are and how much someone like Sarah needs to know that.

We went to the Cleveland Art Museum last week to see the Monet and Matisse exhibit, an idea suggested by me, but taken credit for by Sarah. We woke up early on Friday and dressed in our favorite Forever 21 ensembles and made the short drive downtown to the museum, a place Sarah hadn’t been since she was too young to remember.

It’s no secret within our extended family that Sarah’s developing quirks over the last 15 years will surely lead her down a path of ridiculously admirable artistic ability. She is the most creative person I know. It can frustrating when it takes 25 minutes for her to tell a 2 minute story, because each word is beyond embellished and over dramatized… But she is, in the very least, incredibly entertaining.

I knew our trip to the Art Museum would be an awesome experience for her, but witnessing inspiration spark in someone whose diaper I used to change was actually very cool. I just stared at the paintings as she feverishly studied them and I admired the color schemes while she committed them to memory. I briefly read each artist’s biography as she told me things about them not written on their designated plaques. We slowly roamed through the exhibit, allowing ourselves plenty of time to appreciate each piece. I watched my sister feel at home in a place she had barely ever been too, and had the realization that someday her work could be hanging on the walls of a museum, appreciated and adored by thousands of people.

I have never seen her happier than when she is staring at a painting, admiring an artist, or putting her own talent to canvas upstairs in her room. Her average 15-year-old girl irritability and self-consciousness melt away when she completes her own works of art, and that pride she feels is something I wish was with her at every moment of every day.

As a sophomore, Sarah isn’t old enough to incorporate any art classes into her schedule; she has no sanctity at school, no class that feels like home, no group of people who make her talent feel valued. As she gets older, I realize more and more every day how important it is for me to value her skill, talent, and passion, because she doesn’t see enough of it between the hours of 7:30 AM and 2:30 PM Monday through Friday. She doesn’t hear it from her friends, who were taught you are either a math/science person or an English/history person. She won’t be valued for her artistic ability on her ACT, or on her OGT or her GPA. She will be subtlety, yet unmistakably be shown in the next two years of her high school education, and possibly beyond, that her talent isn’t valued if her testing scores are too low.

I will continue to be the best big sister on the planet by not killing her when she steals my clothes, not erupting with rage when she takes credit for my ideas, and never, ever, discouraging her from becoming an artist.