THE MATTER OF ARTS
On the morning of my college graduation, I found myself plagued by the myriad career choices that lay ahead of me. Should I stick around DC and audition for plays and musicals? Move to Los Angeles and try landing a PA job? Not only was I terrified to make the wrong choice for myself, I was also heavy with the guilt that none of my potential career paths would help the world in any meaningful way. No matter how much I told myself that the arts do matter, I kept hearing this nagging voice in the back of my head:
Stop memorizing monologues and start saving hungry children in Africa. I know you have no skills in anything related to Africa, but damnit you are going to lead a generous life! You must throw away your theatre education and go become a doctor and cure AIDS! Sure, the arts are great, but do they really DO anything?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that supports my love for the performing arts. “Do what you love,” my parents say, “and the rest will follow.” But, on the morning of my college graduation, amidst my thoughts of future movies to star in and plays to be written, I felt guilty pursuing my own passion when there were so many others in need. After expressing these worries to a friend of mine, she told me that I was wrong and explained very clearly why: If everyone in the world could follow their own dream, we would all benefit from that positivity and passion. Imagine a society where anyone who wanted to be an artist could be. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in?
As I put on my cap and gown later that morning, I realized my friend was right. For those of us lucky enough to pursue a life in the arts, we are damaging our peers and ourselves by following another path out of guilt or self-doubt. Besides, who would want to live in an artless world?
When I learned about the genocide in Cambodia that targeted anyone deemed “threatening,” namely any and all artists, my heart sank. There it was. A world with no art: one that didn’t exist in the safe pages of a classic sci-fi book or the within the silver screen of a haunting film. No, this world was in Southeast Asia. This was real. This happened.
Year 33 will shed light on the artists who have emerged in the post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. The film will remind us how endlessly essential the arts remain to any society– and what happens when they are forced to disappear. I cannot wait to see this film to remind myself to hush that nagging voice inside my head: to confirm that anyone who dreams to pursue a life in the arts, whether they are from Westchester, New York or Phnom Pen, Cambodia, must follow their passion. Now, as I embark on my next journey of tackling the acting and writing world in Los Angeles, I begin with the assurance that the arts do matter- and that, if we are lucky enough, we will give most to the world if we each do what we love.