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Don’t be afraid to take your passions seriously

This is my last chance to stand on a soapbox in the context of The College of Wooster. I thought about writing about facing your fears, about being a female leader, about listening to people who are different from you, about how much I respect and love the staff of the Voice — and I believe all those things, but what I really want to do is talk about art.

I didn’t grow up in an environment where people took art seriously. Conventional wisdom is that artists don’t make money, and the (explicit or implicit) message I’ve received over time is that pursuing art over something else I might be capable of, like law, or governmental work, or medicine, would be a waste of my brain and my potential.

That’s crap.

First, art has the ability to heal those who make it and those who see it. The worst periods of my life have always coincided with the times that I stopped being creative. Existing in the world is confusing and often overwhelming and sometimes very lonely. Art, be it music or writing or dance or drawing, doesn’t change that fact. However, it does acknowledge it, and I think that’s half the battle. Sometimes knowing you aren’t the only one struggling is all you really needed to hear.

Second, art can connect you to others. Ultimately, everything people do in their lives boils down to two things: trying to understand what it means to exist, and forming relationships with people around them.

I volunteer at a free breakfast program in downtown Wooster, and I have a friend there who is a 70-year-old ex-biker, ex-truck driver about as different from me as it is possible to be. One of the primary things he and I have been able to connect over is art — he tells me about the poems he’s writing or shows me the carvings on his walking stick, I show him my drawings, and we talk about R Crumb and Bill Watterson. He had asked me to bring in my drawings for several weeks, and when I finally did he seemed to identify with something in them in a way that I never expected. That art can connect people who are so, so different from one another will never cease to amaze me, and that experience alone convinces me of its worth.

Finally, coming to terms with my desire to take art seriously has taught me a lot about how to make life decisions. Because I have primarily been encouraged to think of art as a fun hobby to do on the side of whatever real job I find, I used to feel a need to succeed with respect to other people’s expectations before I could go after what I myself really wanted.

This is a terrible way to live your life. There are two questions that matter when you are making life choices: what do you want, and how are you going to get it? Chasing others’ approval is going to be exhausting and — spoiler! — it’s probably not going to work.

So here’s my (somewhat self-serving) pitch: take yourself seriously. Take the things you love seriously. Work hard on them. Stop discarding things you want to do as impossible because they’re too difficult or too risky or the people around you think you shouldn’t want them. Try to laugh a little, have some fun, take some chances, and I think things really will be okay.

Jack Berthiaume, a Contributing Cartoonist for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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