A Likely Story | ‘Quiero ser artista’
A disappointing career fair experience brings up the doubts that aspiring artists must face
February 23, 2011, 7:00 am · Updated February 23, 2011, 12:00 am·
My sister, a lawyer, has told me the following story on a couple of occasions — often at my request and always with laughter.
Serious students with earnest expressions sit in a law school classroom being lectured by an appropriately stern professor. One of them gets up, throws her hands up in the air and yells out, “Me voy. Quiero ser artista.”
In case you don’t understand Spanish, the phrase roughly translates to, “I’m completely nuts. I will now throw my life away and accept undernourishment as I pursue my dreams.” Or, synonymously, “I’m leaving. I want to be an artist.” This statement naturally shocked a room full of lawyers-to-be, sane people on a path to careers defined by stability.
This inclination to go against the grain is not foreign to some Penn students who would prefer to work in a studio rather than an office.
The spring Career Fair was held last Friday, and it was the biggest one to date, featuring 97 employers. Overwhelmed by the number of people with eager looks and clearly rehearsed speeches, my gut instinct was to walk out. Yet, thinking that I should at least talk to one representative before splitting, I headed toward one of the desks and addressed a sensibly dressed man. Long, painful story short — our interaction concluded when he asked me, “Do you even want a card?”
I didn’t. And I felt like a failure for not wanting it. The card represented an ideal notion of success — one that is bound to a reliable career path and a respectable salary.
The pressure is on. Summer is only a couple of months away, and most of us are either looking for the perfect internship or searching for that great first job. But what happens when you realize that you do not want a job that entails business cards?
Tiffany Ortiz, a College senior with an interest in working in the music industry and the lead singer of the New York-based band Reign State, said she is well aware of the “pressure to go toward something that is professional, clean cut, that will make you a lot of money and will get you there without hardship.”
This is a common sentiment. As Ortiz herself explained, “Because you go to Penn, you think they’re going to spit you out on your feet, completely ready.” When the prospect of this plan failing appears, freaking out often seems to be the only choice available.
“What scares me is that it’s a less-defined path than finance,” said Anna Sabo, a College sophomore who is passionate about music and also looking into more creative professions.
It is precisely this lack of a structured path that intimidates many would-be-artists. This is a particularly hard time of year for them — a time when many of their peers already have jobs lined up that will allow them to live comfortably in New York.
But making the choice to pursue a nontraditional career can also turn out to be the right decision.
Kevin McMullin, a 2009 College graduate who is currently editing his second feature film and pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing at Columbia University, has clearly settled any doubts he had. “I’ve questioned my decision before, but I consider my passion to be a true blessing,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The best way to honor that gift is to pursue it.”
There’s probably no bigger cliche than the story of a possibly courageous — but probably delirious — student who abandons a safe career for the uncertainty of artistic dreams. Yet it continues to be a terrifying tale, and we occasionally need to be reminded that blurting out “quiero ser artista” is an okay thing to do.
Sara Brenes-Akerman is a College junior from San José, Costa Rica. Her e-mail address is brenesakerman@theDP.com. A Likely Story appears every Wednesday.