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Art, America and People of Color

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Lewinale Havette

By Lewinale Havette
Foreign children of color often shoulder the burden of success of their parents.
As a Liberian female visual artist, I know that this truth permeates my culture.
The prevailing fact is that artists of color are unequally represented in the art world, despite the heavy influence , in art, of African, South American and Asian art techniques. Many people of color consider a career in visual or performing art unobtainable due to finances or a lack of connections. There is a belief that becoming a successful visual artist is an unrealistic privilege only reserved for the (mostly white) elite.
For many families of color, pursuing a creative career is not a concept considered worthy of mention and parents require their children to pursue careers in fields they’ve deemed prestigious. These fields include medicine, engineering, law, etc. These widely held convictions within many communities of color may contribute to the reason artists of color remain nearly invisible in museums, galleries, and auction houses.
In cultures where the memory of abject poverty is very recent, encouraging the pursuit of a non-creative career appears to be a safe choice. What should be noted however, is the fact that living in the United States provides unparalleled opportunities for all careers, including creative ones. Ancient ways of seeing creative careers are rooted in myth, not fact.
According to a recent study at Georgetown University, the average recent art school graduate earns 30-48 thousand dollars a year, comparable to recent graduates in many other fields. Many successful visual artists made more than most, per year, as of May 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average wages ran a mean annual $53,400.
Michelangelo did not starve for being an artist. He was a successful businessman, a “pivotal figure in the transition of creative geniuses from people regarded, and paid, as craftsmen to people accorded a different level of treatment and compensation,” in the words of journalist Frank Bruni.
Chinua Achebe wrote: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” We need successful artists to justly record our history and help create the next generation of visionaries. The myth of the starving artist has no place in our system of beliefs.

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