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Why creative work is real work

By KARA PANGILINAN, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 11, 2021 4:00 pm

Ten years ago, somewhere in between scribbling during class, making prom signs with markers and dreading college entrance exams, my artist journey began. Like every other creative thing you get into in school, art was an “extracurricular” for me. I mean, I doubt any of you were allowed to prioritize art over math then, right?

So for years, as I made good grades and good choices, I worked really hard to carve out time for my creative pursuits. My art had to come second to whatever else was expected of me at any given time.

I took up Architecture at UP Diliman, which basically meant I didn’t sleep for five years. During class, I would design new products and do art commissions. During breaks, I would either squeeze in interviews or escape to the Vargas Museum Cafe or Art Circle, my two happy places, and there, I would enjoy the quiet and do my work.

My art was already my work, even if I didn’t acknowledge it then.

December was the worst. Final plates, final exams and holiday bazaars every weekend. I wore my busy-ness like a badge of honor, despite burnout and sickness being a constant threat. I can do this. I can do both. I can choose both, I told myself again and again.

I was young and scared, and it’s possible that I simply preferred to take a difficult but familiar path, as opposed to an equally difficult but unfamiliar one. Plus, the rest of society seemed to favor the former.

Artdrop’s main mission is to #SupportFilipinoArtists.

People supported my work as an artist, but seemed more impressed with the fact that I was studying to be an architect. It’s like I could hear the question behind their expressions, “You’re doing great, but you have a real job, right?” It’s always the subtle comments that would get to me. The quick looks of concern.

My brain would go on defense mode every time and I’d feel the need to hold out my degree, like some sort of free pass that I could show those who did not find creative work legitimate. I’m doing what I have to do, I thought. So, let me do what I want, too.

Looking back, I have no idea what I was trying to prove. Nor can I explain to whom. Where did all that pressure come from? Who makes these rules? There was so much resistance to my being an artist, when there could have been next to none. The pull of creativity was so strong and obvious in my life and yet, it took me years to finally make the jump.

Creative work is real work. It is challenging and rewarding and tiring and fun and I hope that one day, many more people will consider it a dream worth pursuing.

I held my second solo exhibit after my college graduation. But a month later, as my batchmates started applying for architecture firms, I gave in to pressure yet again and applied for one myself and, lo and behold, I lasted less than a year.

Let me spare you all the emotional drama and the quarter-life crisis that pushed me to quit. Let’s just say that despite having a great boss and exciting projects, it was time for me to finally make art my focus. With that, I realized that what you choose to do in this life is a lot less important than why and how you do it.

My journey as an artist is similar to many. During the years I sold at bazaars, I saw people quit their corporate jobs to become creative entrepreneurs. I also know someone who was finishing up his legal management degree when he decided to do mural work full-time. It’s the same for those with other dreams.

A friend of mine made a deal with her parents that she’d complete two years in Marketing before dancing professionally. She now works at Hong Kong Disneyland. And then there’s my sister, who was a broker for a year before she went into professional theater and never looked back.

I’m not saying that you should quit your job to do what you love. I’m also not saying that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That is not true! My journey and none of the other journeys I mentioned were a walk in the park. First of all, it takes forever to get to the park, and once you get there, Jurassic Park pala. (Joke.)

My point is that creative work is real work. It is challenging and rewarding and tiring and fun and I hope that one day, many more people will consider it a dream worth pursuing.

I hope that if my future daughter is asked what she wants to be when she grows up and she says “artist,” the people around her will react with pride, respect and encouragement. Not those arched eyebrows, judgmental questions and oh-so-familiar expressions of concern. Those subtle comments and looks can discourage even the most secure, and I don’t think anything frustrates me more.

The next time someone tells you they want to start making art or writing or singing or doing whatever creative thing it is they want to try to do, please just tell them yes. Yes, that’s great! Yes, that’s definitely something that you can pursue.

So once I found my rhythm, I decided that if there was anything I could do to support other artists, I’d take the opportunity. That’s why, despite being an introvert and struggling with social media, I say yes to talking, teaching, writing like this, and telling others about all the amazing artists that I’ve learned from.

That’s also why I said yes, when a friend of mine asked if I would help him create a platform that would make it a little less intimidating for people who wanted to take their first steps into the world of art, whether it be to create and sell or to support and purchase. We called that platform Artdrop and it may be one of the hardest — but most fulfilling — things I’ve ever had to work on.

More than being a business, Artdrop has evolved into a community I didn’t know I needed, and I didn’t know others needed, too. Aspiring artists flood our email with applications and we get constant inquiries about the 50 artists we’re partnered with so far.

The best part of my job here, apart from being surrounded by creatives and being the bearer of good news when an artist makes sales, is that I get to witness new artists take steps forward. An answered question, a conversation, a collaboration. First project, first feature, first sale. These seemingly small things at the start of someone’s art journey can make a world of difference and I’m lucky to be working with people that have the same goal of supporting Filipino artists so that they can simply keep going.

I’d like to reiterate that this work is not easy. It’s easy to romanticize, yes, but it can certainly be just as grueling as a 9 to 5, even more sometimes. And yes, the stakes may never be as high for us as that of doctors and architects, but that doesn’t make creative work any less worthy of the respect and support of others.

So the next time someone tells you they want to start making art or writing or singing or doing whatever creative thing it is they want to try to do, please just tell them yes. Yes, that’s great. Yes, that’s definitely something that you can pursue.

Who knows? Your support might be the permission they needed to start working on something amazing.

Banner and thumbnail caption: Kara creates commissioned artworks and murals for commercial and residential spaces.