Study Guide

An American in Paris Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

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Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

JERRY: This is Paris, and I'm an American who lives here. My name? Jerry Mulligan, and I'm an ex G.I. In 1945 when the army told me to find my own job, I stayed on. And I'll tell you why: I'm a painter. All my life that's all I've ever wanted to do.

Considering that these are the first lines of the film, Jerry wastes no time in making his dreams crystal clear. Sure, it's taken him a while to actually get started—thanks, World War II—but conquering the art world is what he's all about.

JERRY: And for a painter, the mecca of the world, for study, for inspiration and for living, is here on this star called Paris. Just look at it. No wonder so many artists have come here and called it home. Brother, if you can't paint in Paris, you better give up and marry the boss's daughter.

Paris is instrumental in Jerry's plan for art world domination. He hopes that some of the city's magic will rub off on him and his paintbrush.

JERRY: Back home, everyone said I didn't have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here, but it sounds better in French.

When it comes to taking criticism about his art, Jerry's more than a little bit scared. Sometimes, he's downright prickly. Here, he acknowledges that he may not have what it takes to make his dream a reality and says that he's cool with shutting out the naysayers if it'll help him keep putting brush to canvas.

ADAM: I'm a concert pianist. That's a pretentious way of saying I'm unemployed at the moment.

Jerry and Adam may both be starving artists, but as this quote shows, Adam's got more self-awareness than his buddy Jerry. Adam can call himself a concert pianist, and Jerry can call himself a painter. But the reality of the situation is that, no matter how they choose to identify themselves, they're both struggling to get by day-to-day because neither has found great success.

ADAM: That's the eighth fellowship I've won, and you know something? I'm getting pretty homesick. Not only that, but I'm beginning to feel like the world's oldest child prodigy.

Adam feels the pain and scrutiny of artistic dreams deferred more than Jerry does. While Jerry's cool with shutting out the haters, Adam acknowledges that his dream's taking a mighty long time to accomplish, if he even accomplishes it at all.

ADAM: You know, one time I ran out of fellowships and had to go to work for a living. I had to stop because I discovered I was liking it, and I didn't want to become a slave to the habit.

If you've got big, creative dreams, we're willing to bet you can relate to Adam here. He may be so broke that he can't afford postage stamps, but he'd rather be poor and pursuing his dream than working for The Man.

HENRI: What are you working on?

ADAM: Same old concert.

HENRI: When are you going to give it?

ADAM: When I can't figure out any more reasons not to.

Adam's got that whole self-awareness thing down, doesn't he? Here, he acknowledges that one of the biggest obstacles to making his dream a reality is himself. Whether it's a lack of confidence, a lack of motivation, or just the fear of failure, Adam gets that he's part of the problem.

MILO: [about Jerry's paintings] How much are they?

JERRY: Gee, I don't know.

MILO: You don't know?

JERRY: I never thought I'd come to the point where that would be an issue.

This exchange shows that Jerry views his dream of success as an artist in the abstract. We don't mean "abstract" like a canvas full of shapes and squiggly lines. We mean that he hasn't thought about his career very concretely, as evidenced by the fact that he's never even considered how much to actually charge for his paintings. If Jerry wants to turn his dream into a reality, he needs to get his head in the game.

JERRY: More than anything in the world, I want to have an exhibition, but it's got to be when I'm ready, when my stuff is good enough to show to the public and the critics. You can't set a production date for a thing like that. Don't you understand? I'm not manufacturing paper cups.

Jerry's got a point here, but he's also letting his fear show. It sounds like he's making excuses, doesn't it? Faced with an awesome opportunity, Jerry falls back into what he knows: playing the tortured, righteous artist.

MILO: Look, you're a painter, and a good one. I happen to have a little drive. That's a good combination. Besides, you have to face the critics some time.

Milo's spot-on here. Jerry's a talented dude, but he lacks drive. If he wants to find success, he needs to have a fire lit under his artistic butt—and he has to suck it up and deal with criticism. When you're an artist, that's part of the gig.

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