First of all, wanting to be (some kind of) artist is a bit vague – what does that mean, anyway? For our purposes, let’s use the example of an actor.
We know why you believe in this myth. Mike Myers was accepted at Second City the day he took his high school final exams. Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter and was building cabinets for George Lucas when he got his big break. There are a number of stories like this floating around Hollywood, stories of people finding instant success or just sort of “falling into” the business. Well, no one ever “falls into” being a brain surgeon. You don’t suddenly wake up one day and get assigned to litigate Women’s Rights. It’s easy to see why many kids with stars in their eyes (hiding the insecurities in their pockets) believe in the fallacy that all you need to do is jump off the bus on Sunset Boulevard with a suitcase, a fresh pair of socks and a dream.
Thousands of souls do this jump each year. Two make it. The fact that you’d think so little of yourself to gamble with these kinds of odds says something broader about who you think you are. Don’t bet the ranch on being one of the two.
It’s true that there are the occasional amazing success stories, but treating those as the rule rather than the exception is like saying you’re probably going to have a meteorite land in your back yard because it happened to some guy in Iowa, so why shouldn’t it happen to you. Could a meteorite land in your back yard? Sure. Is it likely? Not by a long shot. And honestly, the odds are pretty similar. Astronomical, in fact. Ahh… it all comes back to the meteorite.
The fact is that you shouldn’t be heading to Hollywood thinking you won’t be satisfied until you’re the next Zac Efron (or whoever you think is the Teen Beat cover). Very few people achieve that level of fame and success, and a lot of it has to do with right place, right time, which is difficult to control. And while there are plenty of actors who never make enough money acting to make a living at it, there are plenty more who do. Individuals who work regularly, get by on a few commercial bookings here and there, frequent speaking parts on network programs, maybe even a recurring role on a basic cable show. You might not recognize them on the street, and you might not ask for their autograph even if you do, but they get paid to do what they love. This breed of artist is the one you should aspire to become. If success beyond the ordinary should befall you, wonderful, but most of the time you just do what you can to keep the soy and tofu on the table. (You’re in LA now, remember.)
Most actors do not make a living off their unbelievable good looks, or their gripping intensity, or their undeniable charisma. They make a living off their skills. Tangible, teachable skills that can be taught in… oh, some sort of teaching forum, say… a college, perhaps? Most acting programs take four years to complete – that’s four years’ worth of learning about physicality and movement, dialects and inflection, scene study and script analysis. Things you won’t know a lick of when you step off that bus.
It is the same story for any artist. You might be that one-in-a-million artist who makes bundles selling canvases with paint splatter on them, but probably not. Instead, you’re going to need to learn about perspective and color theory and geometric abstraction and hyperrealism. You may have cut quite the rug at your cousin’s wedding last spring, but you’ll need some formal dance training if you ever want to set foot on a Broadway stage. And for you performance artists out there… well, you’re all set. Good luck out there. We promise to bring you some water if you spend more than 24 hours chained to that car.
Perhaps most importantly, college will provide you with the tools you’ll need to pursue a secondary career when – okay, if – the art thing doesn’t work out. If you were born a sculptor, raised a sculptor and feel confident you are going to be a sculptor until your dying day, we can get behind that. Go be a sculptor. But life is a funny creature. You may feel differently someday - heck, you may be almost an entirely different person in 10 years – and it might be nice to have some more applicable skills in your back pocket. So give college a chance, receive the appropriate training, and go after success on your own terms, rather than just hopping off the bottom step onto Sunset Boulevard and seeing if you’ve got a winning lottery ticket. After all, you’ve spent enough of your life on a bus.