Arts and Entertainment

Artists in the Making

Teens from different New York City high schools talk about pursuing careers in the arts.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Everyone with a career in an artistic field has a wildly different story to tell. From having doting parents to finding a passion later in life, there are many ways artists can find success with their interests. Particularly in New York City, the high school an artist attends can have a huge effect on his or her pursuit of a career in a creative field. Whether the student is enrolled in an arts-focused school like LaGuardia or a school like Stuyvesant that emphasizes math and science, every aspiring artist’s profession and outlook is influenced by their high school years.

One of the most important parts of achieving success in an artistic career is practice. Statistics prove that at least 10,000 hours of practice are needed to master any skill. In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell examines a study done on violinists at the elite Academy of Music in Berlin. Gladwell finds that “by the age of 20, the elite performers had totaled 10,000 hours of practice” without relying on talent at all. In fact, Gladwell later writes that “once a top musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.”

“I know that I've been drawing all my life,” sophomore Anaïs Real says. She attributes her success to her many hours of practice. “I started to properly learn how to draw on my own when I was 10,” she continues. Real’s hard work pays off: she recalls that the proudest moments of her artistic career were winning Gold and Silver keys in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Real also takes inspiration from her mother, who is an artist as well.

Even though art is an important aspect of her daily life, Real isn’t so sure about a career in the field. Leaning towards creating art as a stress-free hobby, she says, “Being an artist is extremely difficult, and while I love it, it's not exactly something I want to have to do in order to get paid.” With money and picky commissioners thrown into the mix, Real worries about successfully gaining an audience for her work. “Career-wise, it’s always the money. There are very finicky people who commission art, and it can be hard to please them. I don’t want to do art for some random guy; I want to do art for me,” she adds. Real’s logic makes sense. Many artists do struggle for money when starting their careers, and it’s impossible to please everyone.

As for her school’s influence, Real doesn’t feel that Stuyvesant’s STEM-focused environment has a significant impact on her art-related aspirations. “Despite [...] attending Stuyvesant, a place notorious for the sciences and maths, I would like to take art classes in college,” she says. “It probably wouldn't be a major, but I'd enjoy it as additional classes, if they are available.” Stuyvesant, she says, isn’t a huge influence on her career choice. “I've always been more interested in zoology as a career, if I'll be honest,” Real finishes.

Some Stuyvesant students do struggle to balance a heavy workload with their creative interests. “What does stress me out from time to time is balancing my work with schoolwork for the next seven years,” said Stuyvesant sophomore Grace Goldstein, who is interested in writing musicals. “Sometimes I'm afraid that neither will be the best that they can be, because I'm spreading myself too thin doing both.” Goldstein has a point: with hours of homework, it can be hard to find time to devote to preparing for an already demanding job.

Goldstein, however, is not discouraged by Stuyvesant’s emphasis on math and science. “Contrary to popular belief, Stuy is a great place for creators, performers, and artists,” she claims. “I've met some other writers and songwriters at Stuyvesant, and a few of my friends even want to write musicals, which has definitely made me more excited than ever about my career path.” With organizations like STC and SING!, it is possible for Stuyvesant students to find a creative outlet within a strenuous academic environment.

Goldstein also draws inspiration from other successful works of theater, particularly “Rent,” a ‘90s rock musical written by the late composer Jonathan Larson. Goldstein reveals that in telling the story of a group of East Village artists in the midst of the AIDS crisis, “Rent” “reminds [her] of the strength, power, and camaraderie that comes from New Yorkers in the art world.” The production’s score and dialogue inspire Goldstein’s own works. “I want to be able to write like that,” she concludes.

At school, Goldstein is comfortable associating with people who share similar interests. “It's [...] important to be around people who are passionate about the same things as you,” she observes. “Those are the people you'll want to work with as an adult.”

For some teens, practice is made easier with the help of a school that puts an emphasis on the arts. LaGuardia sophomore and aspiring singer Jeanne Bransbourg admits, “[since] I sing at school along with many others, it really encourages my passion and helps me get better and feel more comfortable singing.” With a secure group of fellow singers to commiserate and rehearse with, it does make sense that Bransbourg is pushed by her peers to achieve her goals.

Along with school, an artist’s family can be a deciding factor when it comes to the pursuit of a more creative path, especially during his or her time in high school. We’ve all heard stories of desperate and controlling stage parents that live vicariously through the success of their child. Coming from a musical family, Bransbourg is aware of the benefits of an artistic background, but she doesn’t feel pressured by her parents. Rather than being pushed to get into LaGuardia’s voice program, Bransbourg felt encouraged by her parents to look into many different high schools. “They support me and help me if I need it,” she explains.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons so many teens are deterred from having a career in the arts is the daunting odds of finding enough success to make a living. “It’s very hard to pursue a career in the arts because only one in a lot of people actually make it,” continues Bransbourg, as she talks about the stresses of her chosen path. The “starving artist” trope exists for a reason, partially because of how many hopeful creatives find themselves working toy jobs to pay the bills as they begin to search for opportunities in their preferred profession.

On the contrary, Hunter College sophomore Emma Larson reveals that “it often bums [her] out that [Hunter] doesn’t offer as many opportunities to kids wanting to pursue art as opposed to, say, music or [theater].” However, she does find time to draw in her art school’s art class and cartoon club. Her school’s limited options don’t stop her from creating. “My own personal motivation and enjoyment of illustration is what really pushes me to work on my art,” says Larson, explaining how she improves her art without the help of her school.

When trying to improve and gain attention, many aspiring artists also take to heart the advice they hear from professionals. “Don't worry about getting things perfect,” Real says as she recalls meaningful tips she’s been given. “To keep my options open and to work very very hard,” Bransbourg adds. In the end, most artists find success by staying true to what they know is right for them. “Just draw what [you] love,” Larson says, “because somebody out there loves it too, and you’ll find your own way.”