My Mom Wanted Me to Become a Doctor, But I Found More Success As an Artist

chinese artists

Growing up, I was a bit of a rebellious kid. I remember my first parent-teacher conference in kindergarten when my teacher asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I smiled wide and replied, “I want to be an artist!”

To my traditional Chinese mother, this response was the equivalent of saying that I wanted to be unemployed. She glanced sharply at me and turned to the teacher.

“She wants to be doctor, not artist,” she said hastily.

I did not fully understand what this meant until later. As I matured, I realized my mother was not only concerned about employment that day. There is honor in being a doctor, an engineer. It represents the family well, and this representation is what matters. This makes sense considering we come from a collectivist culture, in which the individual’s identity means nothing and their contribution to the whole means everything. Inside this complex machine of Asian American success and achievement, I was a loose bolt.

I quickly recognized that I was not smart, at least not in the traditional sense. In fifth grade, I found myself falling behind while the daughters of our family friends practiced advanced algebra. This divide only worsened as I entered middle school, and finally, it made itself unavoidable in high school.

As I struggled through high school education, I also ventured down a path outside of school that was unconventional by Chinese standards. I began volunteering on local youth equity initiatives, getting in contact with organizations, and creating a name for myself in the realm of social justice.

Image Courtesy of Taylor Wang

My passion fully surfaced when I co-founded my own organization, Student Art Spaces, to promote accessibility for underprivileged youth artists. With no resources and no adults to assist us, my friend and I collaborated to build the initiative from the ground up. This process was hands-on in every aspect. I learned how to apply to grants, raise funds through Kickstarter, create promotional materials, install galleries with pieces, and garner support from major organizations.

Image Courtesy of Taylor Wang

Months of planning led up to our first gallery in August, aptly titled “The Modern Youth Identity”. Suddenly, we went from late nights working endlessly at a Starbucks or McDonald’s to receiving emails asking for interviews and collaborations.

We bridged generational gaps, introducing older attendees to art created by the youth. We showcased the transformative power of art in creating a community regardless of race, gender, age or economic status. And I think that’s worth so much more than excelling at advanced algebra.

About the Author: Taylor Wang is a Seattle-based high school junior, artist, and activist. When she is not curating youth exhibits and brainstorming ideas for community projects, she can be found doodling sketches for her next oil painting. Her involvement with arts activism began when she co-founded Student Art Spaces, a youth-driven platform aiming to amplify the voices of young artists in professional spaces through gallery events and education.

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