Monday, October 12, 2020

When Parents Oppose Your Choice to Be an Artist

Many young people have faced opposition from their parents when they've decided to be artists or musicians, but not many had it as bad as Hector Berlioz (French composer, 1803-1869).

When he was still a teenager, he started training in Paris for the medical profession. But he realized that he loved music too much to follow that path, and told his parents so.

"My parents called upon me to choose some other profession, since I did not choose to be a doctor. I replied that my sole desire was to be a musician, and that I could not believe they would refuse to let me return and pursue my career at Paris." 

The young man "fell into a sullen silence, but father eventually relented and agreed to let him go, saying 'You shall go to Paris and study music; but only for a time. If after several trials you fail, you will, I am sure, acknowledge that I have done what was right, and you will choose some other career. You know what I think of second-rate poets; second-rate artists are no better, and it would be a deep and lasting sorrow to me to see you numbered among the useless members of society." 

Portrait of Berlioz in 1855 by Richard Lauchert

His mother became angry when she found out his father had allowed him to pursue music.

"She was convinced that, in adopting music as a career (at that time music and the theatre were inseparably connected in the minds of Frenchmen), I was pursuing a path which leads to discredit in this world and damnation in the next."

She said "'Your father has been weak enough to allow you to return to Paris, and to encourage your wild, wicked plans; but I will not have this guilt on my soul, and, once for all, I forbid your departure." 

When she kneeled before him and begged him not to go, he insisted "'Well, then, go," she said. "'Go and wallow in the filth of Paris, sully your name, and kill your father and me with sorrow and shame! I will not re-enter the house till you have left it. You are my son no longer. I curse you!"

Berlioz later reflected that he could never forget that "painful, unnatural, horrible scene," and it solidified his resolve to overcome many obstacles later.
Book: The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz
Wikipedia: Hector Berlioz


Greg Preslicka said...

I grew up in a small tow where most of the men worked in the flower mill. My mother was very supportive of me doing art but when I graduated from high school expected that I would work in the mill like my father. I knew I would never be happy unless I was an artist. To pacify her I applied at the mill. It was hard for my parents to understand when I went to art school thinking I was wasting money. I went not knowing what opportunities were available but decided that I would be an artist even if it meant being a janitor to support it. I was happy to learn of all the avenues there were for me. I chose to be a designer/illustrator. Shortly be for my mother passed away she visited the Design Studio I worked for and seemed proud that I was not a starving artist.

Jim Douglas said...

All artists must learn to process the toxins produced by external or internal naysayers.

"Do not fear mistakes, there are none." --Miles Davis

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise." --William Blake

Chris James said...

I don't know about the music profession, but the "starving artist" has been overstated in visual arts. No doubt that those who choose to follow their own whims and fancies instead of those of the market will be quite unsure to make any bread at all. Art is not a practical necessity in the way a doctor or electrician is, so it's not as secure a profession, but often when I see someone point to an example of the impoverished artist, further investigation usually yields reasons for his state that are not due to art being "useless".

Piya said...

Ouch. I have to admit, this hits close to home. I was supposed to be a doctor too. We've made peace, and my parents have seen my work in print and seen me working at shows selling my work, and for the most part they've come around, but we still have...talks.

Roca said...

I wanted to be an artist because of my love of drawing, but my parents steered me into the "sensible" position of Graphic Design. However, I was unhappy working at a computer for hours a day because it was so far away from the art I actually loved. I changed careers completely and now I don't work in the visual arts at all. It's a little sad, but at least I have a comfortable standard of living and I can make art that I like. Today I'd tell someone considering a career in the arts that it's a bit like wanting to be a pro athlete when you grow up. It takes an enormous amount of work, luck, and the right connections to make a living at it. Better to find a career that pays the bills and find time for art on the side.