This I Believe

Susan - Shreveport, Louisiana
Entered on January 30, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: creativity
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe in the beauty of pre-professional artists.

In other words, young people who dance, act, paint, sculpt, perform, and play musical instruments. Because they are not professionals, they don’t earn a cent.

Their moves may not yet be as polished as the pirouettes of New York City Ballet dancers. Their violin pizzicatos may not yet be ready for Carnegie Hall. But young artists can’t be beat for their freshness, their earnestness, and the sheer joy they take in what they are presenting to the audience.

We’ve all heard the stories of famous entertainers who are impossible prima donnas. They pitch a fit if the backstage area isn’t spacious enough for them, or if some poor lackey forgets to have a glass of water waiting for them in the wings. We’ve heard of Broadway legends who can’t muster up much enthusiasm for a role that they have portrayed a hundred times already, even though members of the audience have paid top dollar to see a peak performance.

Those problems simply don’t exist in the pre-professional realm. Young artists for the most part will match or surpass their audience’s pleasure. And that attitude is invigorating.

When I speak of young artists, I don’t mean the very very young. Three-year-old cherubs in mini-tutus and five-year-old painters with purple splotches on their noses present us with a very different kind of joy. Their cuteness can’t be denied, and even the hardest heart melts in their presence.

But I’m referring to the older kids, the middle-schoolers and high school students, the ones who are serious about their art. They are old enough to understand that there is a broad sweep of tradition and excellence in their chosen genre, and that they have a duty to try to fit themselves into that global picture. They aren’t there yet, but it is a thrilling thing to observe them on the cusp.

If you have the good fortune to work among such young people, as I do, you notice something even more gratifying. Most of them will not be able to make the leap to the professional world when they grow up. The job openings and salaries are simply too meager.

But most of them will arrive at adulthood with extra qualities which their engagement with the arts has bestowed upon them. They will have learned about discipline, perseverance, striving for an ideal. They will have learned about the self-sacrifice necessary to perfect a piano etude when all of their peers are out at the movies. They will have learned how to tap something deep inside themselves which allows them to smile onstage even if they have just been dumped by their boyfriends, or to balance on the point of a toe shoe even though hours of rehearsal have led to blisters. And those lessons will serve them well in whatever profession they end up pursuing.

It’s a shame that school funding for arts education is shrinking and non-profit arts organizations have to scramble for a piece of a dwindling money pie. For I believe fiercely in the beauty and the power of pre-professional artists.