Art is wasteful…and so is grace: A guest response

Below is a post from Harry Griffin, who inspired my post: Art is wasteful…and so is grace.  Harry is a writer, artist, and friend who has inspired me to take my own desire to write seriously.  He uses his work to empower those struggling with homelessness as a volunteer teacher at Urban Ministry Center and as a workshop facilitator and street editor at Speak Up Magazine.  You can find his books for sale on amazon and his blog at 

Harry Griffin

Harry Griffin

Public Renunciation of All Bitterness: My so-called Failed Art career 


The last year I was an undergraduate was a slow year for me for several reasons, one of which was centered around the fact that I in fact had the bulk of my coursework behind me but had just a few required classes to take that by the rules and regulations of my school had to be taken in separate semesters.  So those two semesters of that last year found me enjoying a light course-load and as that year arrived on the horizon of my life I began to see that vast expanse of free time.  And I began to wonder how I might spend that time.

This was 1999 and the biggest event that year and according to the media was the changing of the millennia and I can remember opening a newspaper one afternoon in my dorm room to find an ad for a concert at the local arena that I wanted to go to, which yes, was ultimately what I decided to do, and it was a leap of faith for me because I bought two tickets without knowing who my companion would be.

That extra ticket motivated me though to find that mate and it wasn’t but just a matter of hours seemingly before I made the company of a young lady standing on the porch of my coed dorm.  It wasn’t but just a few more hours before she’d committed to spending New Year’s Eve with me.  And embarrassingly I admit that before the year came to an end, hardly before that fall came to an end, three months into my relationship with this young woman I asked her to marry me, to which she promptly said no returning the ring I bought at the local jewelry store and breaking my heart.

What had happened to me then in my twenty-four year old mind was I had become victim to my own visions for the future, as hard as that is to describe, and when that expanse of free time opened upon my life I began to think about what lay on the other side of college, which somehow included plans for marriage.

I don’t know: it is strange looking back on my childhood and these visions (perhaps nightmares) have passed before my eyes countless times before, the way that I pictured my life was going to transpire as I grew older.

That is what all of this is about: my vision for my life and why that vision did not come to fruition, not at least when I expected it to, not when I wanted it to, and all of the implications of that.

But see, as a child I was told I was going to college.  It was just as simple as that.

My parents, I guess they were rather strong-willed about me and what they expected; not of me, but for me and they just flatly said it seems over and over that I would be going off to college when I finished with high school.  And I never doubted that and never questioned or had any other sort of plan in mind as I grew up, not even as a teenager when I took my first few jobs those years in high school and had that so-appealing money to spend on my heart’s desires.

But here it was, I was twenty-four years old and I was all but assured of my impending graduation from college, where I had studied art and it would seem that I would need to be getting my life together, to make plans for what was next, which honestly, I began to feel at a loss about for what to do.

By all accounts I would need to go to graduate school to become the college professor I so wanted to be, yet my parents suggested they could not afford to pay for me to go to such a school.

Yet too I felt even more seriously a sort of tugging on my heart and soul to be married then, which seemed to be a next step many college graduates took, and I guess what I am saying is I began to feel my way around in the dark, which is what promptly led to the very premature marriage proposal and yet after that proposal that relationship continued to drag me along with it against my will, a friend who was not what I wished her to be but yet someone who had her own wishes for what I ought to be for her, points of contention.

The point is though that I moved in with this young lady I’d asked to marry me immediately after I graduated and it was not but a few more weeks before I showed up on my mother’s doorstep three hours drive away with a truckload of furniture I’d borrowed from my childhood home for that apartment with that friend and the house was dark that night and I let myself in and when my Mom came to see what the commotion was I crumpled in tears on the floor beside the grandfather clock in her den completely and totally defeated.  My friend had asked me to move out.  Our relationship was over, at least for the moment it was, and I was not going to be able to convince her to marry me.

I’d done everything in my power and with all of my will and might to push my life into new territory, the new territory that I fully expected and felt that had been explained to me would be my life after I graduated from college.  Again, I had a vision for my life, a vision that had been set out before me as that child, a vision that included my going to college, graduating, and promptly beginning a career and life that was what it seemed everyone else had.  But suddenly when I reached the age of twenty-four I ran into some very solid walls that were simply insurmountable.

And it began with my asking this young lady to marry me, her saying no and my complete and total emotional defeat as a result.  Looking back on all of this I seem so weak-minded but is it so wrong to simply want to be in love?

Anyway, those next few weeks there at my Mom’s house found me beginning to face the very harsh reality that that was my life then, and it is the life that I have adopted and it is a very different life than I ever, ever imagined I might ever lead.   My life has certainly not been in line with that vision I saw as a child, the typical, average, success-seeking life of a career and marriage and car and house and children.  Perhaps it is true that God has had a very different sort of plan for me all along, which isn’t to say it has been easy by any means.  But I had to face the reality that the sort of support one receives as a child and student in elementary and secondary school, and in college, that it simply ran out after I graduated from college.  There was a sheer, simple, steep falling off; a cliff that I suddenly found myself standing on the edge of and peering over.

Those first few weeks at my mother’s house I had literally no idea whatsoever what to do.  And at least by some accounts I floundered and miserably failed, at least by some accounts.

But the picture looked like this: my parents wanted me to take a job.  They did not stipulate that but strongly suggested it.  My mother allowed me to live with her, gave me authority and sovereignty over my own free-will and decisions, but also at least by my own perceptions set up her own expectations and that was that I would be working towards having that career and life that was so normal and right and I ought to move out of her house I remember her saying on a few occasions and get my own apartment and lead my own life.

But in short there was no way for me to do so.

I looked around.  Yes.

I never considered in that childhood vision of my normal life after college how I might come into my job and my career.  I think I began to see glimmers as an undergraduate that it wasn’t going to be easy.  But it wasn’t easy when I came home from college.

Those art jobs promised to me by all the many advertisements that arrived by the mailbox-full as a high school student after I made the decision art was what I wanted to study in college, where were they now?  Art director? Photojournalist? Museum curator? Gallery owner?  All the careers pursuing an education in visual arts would lead to; those weeks I came home from college found me not only defeated by the denial for marriage and the failed relationship, emotionally distraught because of it, but also no jobs on the horizon.

No ads in the classified section of the newspaper, no help from the career center at my college, no leads from friends or acquaintances, which I might add were virtually nonexistent as well.  Nothing.  EXCEPT: a lone ‘now hiring’ banner hanging outside of the very same fast-food restaurant I worked in beginning from the day I turned fifteen years old, my very first job.  And I cannot even begin to describe the series of emotions and grief and regret and disappointment I went through as I rejected as strongly as I possibly could the idea that I ought to go back to work for the establishment I’d been hired for without a college education, at minimum wage, as a fifteen year old, doing the dirty work I had grown to hate during high school, and living a life that was in essence by the then current standards, quite ridiculous and demeaning.

No one wanted to work fast-food jobs.  And I was for sure not going to do it myself, not even if it was the only job in my city.  I would rather be homeless.  I would rather not have money.  I refused, in short.  And I put my foot down.  I said no.

It was then at this juncture that more than ever before a series of thoughts began to leak in that told me art was pointless.  It was then I began to feel that art is frivolous, that it is meaningless, that it is less-than, that it is wasteful.  But art is not wasteful.  I know that and profess that and believe that with all my heart.

I simply found myself drowning in my own lack of ability to find and secure that job; I simply found myself feeling that I had been abandoned; I found myself wallowing in what I determined were the prevailing yet opposing opinions that art is a luxury and a recreation and a pastime of enjoyment and satisfaction and for that reason it is relegated to the level of hobby and craft and never a job.

I struggled.  I resisted.  I was so lost.  I felt frustrated.  I felt alone.  I was hurt.  I felt I had been lied to by my parents and by my friends, by my advisors and teachers and professors, by all.

Why had I not been smart enough to know what was right?  Why had I chosen a career that seemed to be such a dead-end?  Why had no one told me to research careers to see what trends are and were in the job marketplace?  Why hadn’t I heard that message?  Had I only been selfish in my choosing art?

Certainly I had thought about that before and I think I felt a certain amount of guilt about my choice of profession: it seemed anyone in their right mind would choose a career as enjoyable as art if they knew what was right for them.  Yet I knew that that wasn’t practical, too.  We can’t have a world full of artists, I thought, because then who will treat the sick, carry the stones and build the walls of our buildings, run our courts and enforce our laws?  Everyone couldn’t be an artist because the world would fall apart, I thought.  So why had I been so privileged yet also so misguided to choose a so-self-centered and selfish profession, a career that would make me so very happy?

I was so lost.  I was so frustrated.  And again it was then that these opposing feelings and opinions began to leak in and at a time when it is true I was perhaps being called upon to be more creative than I ever had been about finding that job, to be smarter than ever before, in so many ways these times found me struggling and floundering and wishing and praying and hoping for more.  For help and for assistance arriving at the destination of life and that job and that dream and vision I had had as a child.

The destination had been defined but the route there had not been provided.  That was up to me to find, I know now, and when I came home from college I was crushed by this task, feeling abandoned and hopeless, and it was hard.

I never expected my career as an artist to fail, and by all accounts when I came home from college that was exactly what happened.

But I am here today to say that that is precisely what did not happen in those weeks after I arrived home on my mother’s doorstep in tears, broken-hearted, and that did not happen over the next few months as I made my way in that cold, broken world that only offered me, a haughty and intelligent college graduate, a job in a fast food restaurant.

I in fact became more and was more and did more for my life than I ever had before, and I have grown into a person that I admire and respect and love and cherish.  I have become whole.  And though I could not see it at the time the decisions I made when I was twenty-four and twenty-five years old, and in the following years when I took up a very uncomfortable residence at my mother’s home, as unhappy as that made her, those decisions shaped me and made me who I am today, perhaps more than any other decisions I have ever made.

And I am proud of that and happy about that and I would wish no less for anyone else.  Amen.

But there is this: at times I find myself still wallowing in a certain bitterness about life and about those feelings I had when I came home from college and about my unrequited fantasies of becoming a college professor and having the art career I so desire.  At times I still find myself proclaiming that art is frivolous.

Is my career what I wish it were?  In ways, no it is not.  I only work part-time and the work I derive the most satisfaction from does not pay.

But I am not giving up and I am not in any way unhappy or unsatisfied.

I teach these days.  I write.  I paint.  I think.  I am.  And I am becoming more and more, and it is with that I renounce all of my bitterness of heart about this so-called failed career as an artist.

The truth is: when I came home from college I found another academic program that could not have been any more perfect for me and my interests and I grew more and learned more in that program than I ever have before.  And for that I am so thankful.

And later nearing completion of that program I did move out of my mother’s house and I took this part-time job at an art supply store and this has been very redeeming and rewarding for me.

And I have discovered a church and I have made friends and I have traveled and my aspirations as an artist have been realized; I am making the art I so desired to make, and all of it with the ease and comfort in a life that finds me well-rested and healthy and alive.

Again, I am happy and whole and alive, and it was not until I began to claim that happiness; it was not until I began to speak it into my life that it began to occur.

So again: I renounce all my bitterness about my so-called failed art career, and I move on in a healthy and happy way.

I know that all of my fears and frustrations still leak in from time to time, all of my desires and wishes for a fuller life.  I know that I wake up sometimes in those thoughts and memories of the trauma of my joblessness and abandon in my twenties and early thirties.  But I also know if I can stop claiming that art is wasteful; I know when I can believe in it with all my heart, when I can profess and proclaim and announce all of the beauty that it has been for me, all the ways that this discipline has changed me and cared for me and been there for me all along, it is then that I will be truly happy.

It is a matter of will, a matter of the mind.  One must choose to be happy.  And when one does in fact choose that, one becomes that.  I choose to be happy; I state that I am, and therefore I become happy.  In the same vein, I believe art to be fruitful, I believe art to be beneficial, and I believe art to be worthy.  And I believe that my very faith in it will guide me to where I need to be.

Again: I hereby renounce all my bitterness about my so-called failed art career.  And I will stop claiming art is meaningless and pointless and frivolous, and wasteful.  And I will move on in a happy, healthy way.  I believe this and know this.  For all of it I am so thankful.  Amen.


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