The following words are by Xavier Vega, an alumnus of Avon Old Farms School, an all-boys college preparatory school in Avon, Connecticut. He delivered them on May 19th, at the opening and dedication of Ordway Gallery on that school’s campus:
It is always the path of the artist to have to create his or her own. Never is an artist given anything in this world but their talent – rarely do any of us truly possess it naturally. In a world where hard work is equated to physical labor, artists live in a perpetual limbo of social acceptance. When one decides that one will draw, sing, dance, paint, sculpt, or pursue any other vein of art, they are immediately undercut by the social pressures that so consume their peers.
“Oh, you’re going to school for graphic design? … That’s great! … So are you going to minor in business.”
“You’re an artist. So what is it you REALLY do, you know? Like what’s your job-job?”
It is always the path of the artist to have to create his or her own. I hate to burst any bubbles, but Avon Old Farms School is no different. And this is no fault of the administration or the educational staff, but the blame lies instead in our culture. It lies on the way we treat young men in society. To many, our life should culminate in some hyper-masculine expression of what is thought to be a success: work on a railroad, go to Wall Street, join the military, and the list goes on.
Let me assure you that I do not seek to discredit how valuable physical labor is – physical laborers and corporate workers are the very backbones of this country. Nonetheless, not every man is fated to pursue such a path. Once again, not every man is fated to pursue such a path. For those of us who refuse to do so, we often turn to art, and this will breach the very subject of why I make this speech. For young men like myself or the incredibly talented Graham Deckers, the jungle of success has an artery to its core cut with a machete of deeply-felt emotion, hours and hours of time, and most importantly, inward faith. We must believe in ourselves 101% because our peers often do not do so.
As a young Puerto Rican man from a very humble background, I realize that paramount to my success was my ability to believe in myself when nobody but my amazing family did. For them to even take the risk of believing in me is a huge cultural and social step in a positive direction, and I’m eternally grateful. When your son is the art kid, I imagine it can be terrifying – Who makes a living off of painting? How do you make a living off of painting? All questions reasonably created by our social climate, and that are no more than a reflection of our attitude towards artists.
So then, if you take anything away from this talk: support artists. Be a patron, buy that painting, because what most artists need is simply that – support. Never tell a young man that art is out of his grasp. Condition the young people around you in such a way that they appreciate the arts, understand how difficult they are, or even feel comfortable enough to pursue them. The change starts with the people in this crowd, who I know are intelligent enough to help destroy the wall that keeps boys from pursuing art. You and only you can assist in cutting a path for the next young man who decides to pursue a career or have a passion for art.
I want to thank Mrs. Pinton for being the catalyst to my career as an artist and for accepting this original work in such a space. I also want to thank my parents for being my biggest supporters, and want to thank my little sister, Brianna Vega, for reminding me that there is always tomorrow, and that balance is the key to success in all that you do. Thank you for your time and please enjoy the show.
*Please note that while Xavier’s emphasis is on young men, be assured that his message is equally applicable to young women who are interested in pursuing a life in the arts.