By: Dao Anh Le-Ha
We have all heard of the stereotype of “the struggling artist”. Many of us have been “warned” by our Asian parents to never end up like that, to pursue a more secure career path, perhaps at the expense of chasing our dreams and fulfilling our passions. Perhaps at the expense of doing what makes us happy.
Creativity itself, I would go so far as to say, is vastly underappreciated in the Asian community, particularly by older generations of Asians, and Asian parents who have grown up with the more traditional idea that logic, rationality, and a secure income are invaluable over the freedom and the beauty found in the expression of creativity. Artistic expression is often sidelined for more, so-called, “realistic” dreams, often deemed “useless” compared to other “worthwhile” paths to chase.
That being said, the narrative that a secure income cannot possibly be achieved with a career in a creative field is incorrect. It is the lack of respect for the creative industry that proves a problem, and this lack of respect, while ingrained in our society in general, is no less prevalent in Asian culture. Most of the time, it is people with this lack of respect for the creative industry who refuse to pay artists what they deserve to be paid, resulting in less income than what the artist could have and should have earned, and so the cycle continues. This can be seen so often in today’s world, that it is widely accepted by most artists or people working in the creative field as a risk factor that is part of the job. Many artists of all fields are scammed or underappreciated for their talents, paid much less than their work is worth or having their work stolen as if it’s an okay thing to do, due to this prevalent lack of respect, which is only increased when these artists who have gone through so much already are jeered at more for not “earning a stable income”. And many artists who do earn a stable income are brushed aside as flukes of some sort.
Another issue that is often lightheartedly joked about but also actually arises more frequently than popular belief is when Asian youth are threatened with disownment for considering a career other than a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Firstly, it should be morally apparent that a child, teen or young adult should never be threatened with disownment for wanting to pursue their dreams. Second of all, why is the said child, teen or young adult with a passion for art and creativity and a drive to pursue a career doing so enough to warrant being threatened with disownment from their own parents? Is a career in the creative industry not only undervalued that much in the Asian community but so hated and fear-inducing that many young Asians suffer physically or psychologically when they express their desire for it? Why is a career of creating movies with representation and important messages and compelling storylines that shape who people become considered inferior to a career that enforces and challenges and weaves laws and fights for people’s human rights within them? Both play equally essential roles in any society, yet there is a clear difference in how they are treated. A career in art and a career in science are in no way on uneven grounds. Both are driven by passion, as someone’s career choice should be. The difference is that in the Asian community especially, the passion that drives the desire for a career in science is 99 times out of 100 rewarded and comes with the assurance of support, and the passion that drives the desire for a career in art requires a stern sit down lecture on the “harsh reality” of the world.
This brings up an interesting point that should apply to any injustice or “harsh reality” existing in today’s world. We should not have to sacrifice our dreams and sit back and let these “harsh realities” continue to exist and thrive. We should not have to just sit back and accept. We should not have to nod and close our sketchbooks as these “harsh realities” win. We, the Asian youth growing up as the oh so hated Gen Z, yet in arguably one of the most progressive eras of sweet, sweet change (although we still have a long way to go), are realising this, and we are putting up a fight.
Back to the lack of respect and/or appreciation for creativity in the Asian community. There seems to be an underlying belief about creative expression existing in most, but particularly Asian, cultures, one that subconsciously deems it as more “shallow” than a career such as medicine, one that views it as less “substantial” than a career such as engineering, one that views it as ultimately “useless”. This belief is damaging in many ways, not only to the passion that is shot down in Asian youth but to the subtle yet ever-existing disrespect towards people working in creative industries, the dismissal of the weight and hard work of and put into their crafts, and the valuing of certain careers over others, subtly pitting people against each other, which as we all know by now, society loves to do. This belief is also not helped by society’s money-making, money-hunger-fuelled, capitalism mindset or the Model Minority Myth.
Something that many people continuously do not realise or simply refuse to admit is that art holds the power to ignite change and provoke thought and conversation in ways that politicians never will. Art has always held power – silent and under-recognised power, yes, but power nonetheless – to shape and progress our society, with the same intensity as many other career paths or ongoing projects or factors of society, just in a different way. Artistic and creative expression is far from useless. It is a weapon of silent and disrespected and deadly power in change and moral progress. The creative industry has always been conveyors of political messages skillfully laced into major motion pictures or New York Times bestsellers. Creativity invites, as you’d expect, something new. It invites questions for change to be made. That, I would say, deserves just as much respect as any other “pioneers of progress” job or industry.
Creativity shouldn’t ever be deemed as not worthy of respect, and yet in our society, and the Asian community at large, at its core, it is.
Another thing to note is that, of course, creativity doesn’t always inherently mean art. Creativity and art are heavily intertwined, but creativity as a process and a way of expression is also heavily intertwined with many other things. Creativity in itself can develop in anything, can be used to achieve anything. Its Oxford definition is “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”, and the simplicity of it as an idea enables creativity as a process and way of expression to be intertwined into engineering, scientific innovation, politics, and multiple industries other than the creative one. It is the heavy opposing of the artistic side of creativity and its expression that is the most common in the Asian community and society as a whole and needs to be addressed.
Creativity, at least to me, means expression. It means blood and sweat and tears. It means craft and skill and art and pure, beautiful passion. It means a vision and a process and a final piece. It means who you are and what you stand for and how you stand for it. It means fun and freedom and hours of hard work and filling the holes of what should already exist in the world. It means expression in one of its best forms.
It’s just sad to see the sometimes blatant contempt it has had expressed towards it for years on end, up until now, in the Asian community.
Dao Anh Le-Ha is a Vietnamese high school student in Australia who has a passion for makeup, fashion, graphic design, art and all things aesthetically inclined, as well as an interest in literature, philosophy and social science. She is a young intersectional feminist who advocates for what she believes in (LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality, accurate and well-done representation in media for people of all minority groups, climate change, women’s rights) and tries to use her voice and love for writing in ways to fight for what is right. She aspires to work in the United Nations and continue changing the world through activism as much as she can.
Instagram: @xdreamsandflamesx https://www.instagram.com/xdreamsandflamesx/