Loose ends are the Prize

POSTED ON: March 11, 2015


What do you tell parents of talented children who want to be artists?  I have met many, and my most honest answer is, that this is a good thing.  I know they are most worried about how the ability and desire to make beautiful drawings will translate into a college degree, a paying job, a satisfying career, and a happy future.  My response is consistent.  Young adults who pursue the question, “why does art matter?” and those who have the impulse to create objects, or other forms of visual expression, are striving toward an intelligent contribution to be shared with the rest of us. The creatively curious art student who sees the world outside oneself, who is intensely perceptive about their immediate surroundings, who can map it, draw the details, or make their own clothes, is an individual inspired by visual scraps and clues they can reassemble into something more, and they need to do this.  We live in a built world, and art students will make a lot of it.  They will keep themselves and culture in motion.  And that is a very good thing.

It wasn’t much different for my parents when I was a teenager insisting on applying to college, unsure of how to pay for it, and what came after that.  They were horrified that I would be a pauper, or worse, unproductive and unhappy!  My parents eventually came to appreciate and respect my choice.  As the first child in a large family to apply to college, I first demonstrated my commitment by obtaining scholarships, and later two fine art degrees.  They recognized that I was the most informed at what I wanted to do, and quite excited about the apparent loose ends.  

The undetermined nature of an artist’s future can be the prize.   Many rich opportunities arise because of an openness to experience, and studies and collaborations that redirect our choices.  Looking and living way beyond one’s neighborhood, and taking the risk to further one’s education, with full knowledge of requisite hard work and fiscal challenges ahead, is an informed choice.
Not everybody goes to art school, and not everybody should.  But consider this:  art courses are priceless experiences that shed light on the hard work, and difficult concepts involved.  Visual and critical thinking, and speaking up in group critiques, builds patience, discipline, and independence.  It proves that learning to think critically, and to articulate one’s ideas in a variety of forms, is an important step to adult success and educational athleticism.  The point of rigorous pre-college instruction is to ready oneself for university, to mature with a sense of individual responsibility, and to take ownership of one’s education and future.


  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.