The job of any True Artist is one of conversion. The Artist takes a notion and transforms it into something else, something greater, than what it was before. That conversion also plays a direct role in the real life of the True Artist, too.
When I was entering graduate school, there was a woman in the financial aid department named Bernice and every single student in our theatre program hated her because she was entirely negative and nasty to each of us.
We could not avoid Bernice because she was the one who had to process our student loans — but she didn’t see her job as a paper processor — she saw her job as an opportunity to jab each of us in the eye with her opinion that Artists were not going to make any money and that we would be unable to pay back our loans. She worried most, she told everyone, about “the poets” because they had absolutely no job potential in the future after graduation.
What Bernice was sharing with us may not have been wrong in fact — but it was incorrect in vision and timing and perpetually cruelly spirited because, by the time we met with Bernice, we had already moved to New York City. We were in student housing. We’d changed our lives. We’d cleaved friendships and divorced comfortable realities to risk it all on a high-wire act as Artists in The City.
Having Bernice play the role of our hectoring mothers did not help us, it only hurt us, and made us hate her for not at least pretending that some of us might do well in the end.
What Bernice failed to understand is that the university is not a place for getting a job — it is a place for the acquisition of wisdom — and Artists have every right to go deeply into debt in order to get the world set in a frame in which they can relate.
Artists are born conversioners. The Poet can become a banker. The Playwright can become the ship builder. The Sculptor can become a dentist. School helps us find our way. Learning marks a shared, bright, path in a world of confusing, and often diffusive, illuminations.
The point of the Artist in graduate school is not to get a job or to earn a living at the Art. It’s fine if that happens, but it is the process that is necessary and not the false end that matters; and for people like Bernice to bully us into reversing a decision we already made to enhance our future employability in whatever realm in which we found ourselves, was both shortsighted and unfortunate, because — We, The Artist — know our path and we comprehend what dangerous tending it takes to get us to the end of one realm and into the next, and the ultimate proof of that notion was our feet on the ground in New York City.