Art as a Calling vs. Art as a Career

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  • Hi all! I am a high school senior thinking about my future and making plans. As of right now, I will major in History and Political Science at either Wheaton College or Grove City College, aiming for a job in public service. In college, I plan to write the novel that has been rolling around in my head for four years now, and get involved in the music program at either of the two schools. However, I’m doing a little reimagining. I had the lead in my school’s competitive drama program and loved the opportunity to create art in the acting, singing, and dancing. I wasn’t planning on joining a theater group in college and devoting an abundance of time to art besides writing a little bit each day, because in my flawed brain art doesn’t feel like a productive use of my time, but I’m afraid I can’t give it up. I’m starting to rethink what my future should look like. I believe that I’m called to create, but I’m not sure how to do that. Art is a calling for me, but does that mean I should make it a career? And if I don’t, and instead have a rather demanding job, is there anyway to continue creating on the side without pushing it to the way side? Is there a difference between art as a calling versus art as a career? If you have any advice from personal experience or general wisdom, it would be greatly appreciated!

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    Josh Duncan


    Congratulations on your impending graduation! May God bless your continued education.

    What I’m about to say comes from a guy who is not employed as an artist or writer, but I have given these issues some thought. Take it all with a grain of salt.

    My first piece of advice: Don’t stress yourself out over these questions. They are important and they need to be answered, but God will guide you through the process. Continue making Him your first priority. Establish a spiritual rhythm of life once you get to college. Look for opportunities to create, even beyond the writing you mentioned. See what doors God opens, and bear in mind that when He opens doors we should still be proactive in finding them.

    Regarding art as a productive use of time: It sounds like you already know that art can be a very productive way to use your time. A large portion of our culture is so achievement driven that if something doesn’t propel you toward a pre-established, measurable goal they say it is a waste of time. This is false. When we create we find out more about God and ourselves, and it can also help us mature in the way we perceive the world.

    Whether art will be your career is impossible to answer right now. Some spectacular artists hold other jobs so they can pay the bills. If you have another job there will be ways to make space for art in your life–most of the time. It’s something you will need to cultivate as time goes on, and you will find yourself re-asking some of these questions whenever you enter a new life phase. When your frustrated, be honest with God. Offer those small moments of suffering to Him and you will find He is faithful.

    I realize this is all very general, so I hope it is of some help.

    Summary: Seek the kingdom of God, do good work, and don’t be in too much of a hurry. And take your general requirements first!

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    Here’s a few thoughts from someone who did something similar to what you are looking to do. I was an artistic highschooler, majored in history at the University of Oregon, met my wife in my last semester there, married her, and got a very demanding job to support her as she raises our family from home. I was called to write, and I still write on the side, but haven’t finished much. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

    First off, I would suggest reading over St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “First Principle and Foundation” from his Spiritual Exercises. Really consider it, especially in terms of your schoolwork, your career choices, and your art. This ultimately should be the basis for any art you create.

    Regarding your history degree, congrats! My suggestion is to dig deeply into your historical studies, and search out the Salvation History that is behind the secular history. What I mean is that when I was taking my history courses, I would look for what Christ was doing through His Church in the various times and places I studied. I dug into what the Christians of that time period believed, what struggles they were facing, etc. Building up a sense of historical Christianity, and thus the work of God throughout history, will only strengthen your faith. May I ask what your focuses will be, as far as places and times?

    Drama and literature need not be exclusive. Go to Shakespeare. If you’re strong in your faith, read great secular plays like Equus. Consider writing your own play, and work with your drama department to develop your skills.

    When deciding your career, it’s best to consider your vocation first. Is God calling you to married life? Is He calling you to life as a lay single person? Is He calling you to the life of a religious sister or nun? Seek that out first, and do what you must to support that calling. If you’re called to be married, will you be able to stay at home to raise the kids? If so, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your degrees, but you’ll need to remember that you’re going to be putting your degrees to work in a different way. Your history may help you in homeschooling, and it may help you if you learn how families worked in ancient days and decided to practice some of those traditions. Either way, remember to stay flexible. If you don’t get an immediate clarion call to a specific five-year-plan, then you’ll be like of the rest of us asking for ‘our daily bread’. Ask what God wants you to do ‘today’.

    A spiritual director who’s sympathetic to your interests will be helpful. Whether it’s a pastor, or the religious of a nearby monastery, or a spiritually competent person whom you trust, be an intentional disciple to some elder in the faith. Keep yourself accountable to that person, and regularly talk through your spiritual life with them. They will see some great things that you’ll miss because you’re too close to yourself.

    Jack London famously wrote some of his major works during breaks at various jobs. From personal experience, if you’re serious about writing you’ll fit it into your work. I tend to make notes throughout the day on my job and mull them over, so I can write them down longhand when I have an hour or two at home.

    Consider reading this, this, and this.

    Most important advice I can give you: Be a saint! What else is there in life?

    God love you.

    Roy E. J. Friend


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