Where to?

Soon after Jack passed his first birthday, we started collecting his art. I have a shelf full of his drawings and paintings neatly stored in plastic sleeves, binder after binder of his collected works. So many of his passions – soccer, Warhammer, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Tintin,  drums — have ebbed and waned, but, through thick and thin, he has continued to paint and draw and make art for year after year. Certainly, Patti and I encouraged his interest, but Jack is the one who sustained it. He has a will of his own and no matter how many crayons and markers we bought him, he wouldn’t have continued if he didn’t have an innate desire to make things.

Jack has had a solid art education so far. He’s done some sort of formal art program every summer, in competitive programs filled with talented kids. He was accepted into the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and has spent the last three years augmenting his regular classes with two hours of  drawing and painting every single day. This consistency shows in his work – he can draw anything fearlessly and accurately, he has a great eye for composition and color, and increasingly he is taking bold and imaginative steps forward, challenging himself to do new things in new media. Recently he has decided he is interested in pursuing design. He loves typography, he likes problem solving, and the more he learns about all of the things designers do in the course of their work, the more intrigued he becomes.

So far, so good.

Now Jack is a junior in high school and we are putting together the list of colleges he’ll apply to this fall. The big question is, should he put all his efforts into polishing his portfolio and vying for a great art school like RISD or SVA ? Or should he go to a solid, creative liberal arts college where he can take some art classes, maybe even in major in design but also get a well-rounded education.

Now if Jack was good at nothing but art, the decision would be simpler. But the fact is, he’s a good student in all his classes, hard working, smart, critical but involved. He’s also a natural leader, a popular person who has always had his mother’s social skills.

For me, as someone who has long encouraged people to bravely embrace their artistic side, who wishes he could go to art school himself, this is no time to encourage him to toe the straight and narrow, to face the bleak future most art school grads purportedly have, saddled with enormous student loans that they must pay off by working in Starbucks for the rest of their lives. Art schools, we hear, are full of rich kids and directionless losers. We both know that’s an exaggeration. We both know that you should follow your passion and the rest will straighten itself out. We also both know that most of the passions of 16 year-olds are rarely long-lived, that Jack does not want to wake up in a  dorm room some day and wonder whether he’s actually learning anything useful.

There’s no simple answer to this common dilemma. We are going into it with our eyes open, accumulating impressions and advice, balancing pros and cons, and waiting to see which way fortune blows us.

It would be a lot easier to tackle this all-important crossroad if Patti was here to lend us her wisdom and hold our hands. But I think  she’d tell us to do what we’re doing. We haven’t screwed anything up too badly so far. Let’s hope we do okay on this round too.


—– Post script.

We just met with Jack’s guidance counsellor who assure me that Jack is in great shape for next year and that we really needn’t make any decisions at this point. I am starting to think this process will only be as difficult as we let ourselves make it.


19 thoughts on “Where to?”

  1. I have a 15 year old here, soon to be 16 year old daughter, in the last year of her formal education. She is going back in the autumn to study for a further two years, Philosophy, English Literature, Art and also Product Design. Following these two years she will be going on to university to study what she is unsure of at this moment in time. She wants to include her art, but feels that she needs to have it as a skill rather than a focus. I think she will probably end up in advertising, product design or possibly architecture. Like your son she has always been involved in art in some form, but has a good head on her shoulders and is actually very good at most of her subjects. Like you I am on my own with her but for a different reason to you, and being a lone parent can be tough at times. It is nice to have someone to bounce ideas off, although she and I are doing fairly well so far.

    I wish you both every good wish for the future. I think the secret is to find something that you both love and are good at, that way you will never feel like you simply have a job, more a vocation.


  2. Wow – just to let you know your blog flows beautifully on the iPad Danny. As for jack, he’s a very smart kid and I have no doubt he’ll make a good decision ( who ever knows if they are the “right” ones?) because he’s been raised by two loving parents who’ve done their best to help him become the young man he is. What more could anyone ask for?


  3. I am a firm believer in a strong Liberal Arts education. One is exposed to so many ideas – and critical thinking is at the core of all of the courses. It is one of the last opportunities to hone critical thinking and the ability to analyze things thoroughly. The opportunity to indulge in the fun & luxurious process of taking courses from the best teachers at the college (no matter their diciplines), exploring new areas, developing ideas and vigorouly defending them will benefit him thrughout life. Solid analytical thinking is required for almost everything in daily life. Since Jack has developed a good eye, drawing skills and fantastic self-dicipline he will never lose his art. But, it would be great for him to be in a Lib. Arts environment where he can continue to grow (perhaps in unexpected directions)and where his innate personal assets can blossom. He can always take some studio oourse at college – and specialzed art courses can be taken after collge. At 22 he will of more value to himself as a Renaissance Man – or well educated generalist than he would as a skilled specialist. He can always develop special skills.


  4. Danny, take a look at Nazareth College of Rochester (NY). I’m an Art Ed alum from there, and my son is graduating next month with HIS degree in Art Ed! This school has the WHOLE package for a creative young person. I am sooooo proud of the person my son has become in the past 4 years. The website it http://naz.edu. And it’s not toooo far from NYC, but far enough! Good luck to both of you on your journey. Lookind forward to reading all about it!

    joanne sharpe


  5. My son is 19 and just finishing his first year in college. His passion and talent is for writing. We had the same concerns for him, and for ourselves. Will he find the direction he needs in university? Are WE giving him the best we can? We also told him to follow what he really feels good about learning and doing. He didn’t have the same choices in schools your son will, his grades and strengths just aren’t as good and varied, so I suppose that made it easier for him to choose. He entered with a General Studies major, got a job with his university newspaper, and that was the push he needed to understand that writing was not only what he enjoyed but a viable skill that he will use throughout his life.
    It’s only my opinion, not much solace, but a child who is dedicated to finish his education will find the best direction. We can only encourage and support as parents, three heads not necessarily being better than one.


  6. I don’t know how it works in the States, but over here (The Netherlands) you can combine an art education with a teaching degree in the arts. Maybe that’s the best of both worlds?

    Anyway, it sounds to me like when the time is right Jack will figure it out on his own. These things have a way of working out without having to force the issue.


  7. I love art too, Danny, but in this world, in this messed up economy, unfortunately, you need to be able to earn MONEY consistantly and in decent amounts. A career in Art is iffy these days.

    Teach him how to fish, so he’ll never be hungry!


  8. Go the cheap route! I had one year of private school that I only finished paying off in my 30s. That was before I dropped out to pursue my dream job and learned that the opportunities are there for people who are passionate and good at what they do.

    I now own a motion graphics company with my husband, and we get so many fresh-faced kids in for interviews who think that we’ll be impressed with everything they’ve managed to cram into their CV/resume. But the truth is, we ultimately don’t care where they’ve been if their portfolio doesn’t stack up.


  9. Hi Danny, You know that the Art Colleges are not just about Art. They teach everything as well. Otherwise there is no way to get a BFA or an MFA. Just ask Jack what he wants to do and go from there. He’ll find his well-rounded place in the Art world and oddly enough it will probably not be because of a university or art college. It will be because he has lived longer and knows himself better and where he wants to go. Be well and happy.


  10. I love your blog! I am going to comment on it some other time thou…it touches too many sensitive points(so my reply now would be too personal)…but i understand what are you getting through…i admire your writings and perspective of life and your son is lucky to have you!
    All the best!


  11. Dear Danny, You have a bright, curious son. He needs a good knowledge of all sorts of things. Art school locks him in. Liberal arts college will still leave him time, then and later to continue to do art.
    Art can involve itself with many areas. And if he hates liberal arts, he can transfer out, whereas, it’s hard to go from art school to a college.
    I speak as a retired vocational and family counselor.(I quit school in the middle of 24th grade, 2 MA’s and an ABD.
    Good luck and don’t sweat it. Lucy Jefferson


  12. Danny…sounds like you’ll have plenty of advice to sift through, so I will offer none. I just wanted to say how glad I am that you are posting on your blog again. I think about you often, as I revisit my favorite sites from time to time. Tomorrow will be one full year since I lost my wife…I have been so inspired by the grace and determination that you’ve displayed as you’ve continued on. You’ve done well.

    It’s obvious that you are trying to make the best choices that you can, and that’s what matters.


  13. Danny, I grew up in India, loving art, among other things, and still regret having to choose: where I went to school, you had to choose, at age 16, to either pursue art, or science. I love drawing. I also love physics. I ended up pursuing a degree in graphic arts because it was the only way I saw to earn money in the arts.. years later, I did my MFA at Pratt. I really enjoy design, but wish I would have had a few more years of a grounding in the Liberal Arts and science.. if nothing else, it would have made for a better designer/artist!

    I guess you have to , in a strange way, be glad there are so many paths to choose for Jack! Not that that makes it easy! But with his talent and application, I’m sure he’ll do well, whichever way! Good luck, and thank you always for being an inspiration!


  14. My son got an excellent, well-rounded education at MIAD, landed a great job in his field, paid off his tuition and traveled the world (for work and pleasure). I’m with Maria on this one.


  15. Hi Danny,
    Jane LaFazio introduced me to you and your books, so HI. I am Mom to 2 daughters one out of college & the other still in.

    You probably won’t read this because there are so many replies but it sounds like you son could write his own ticket to almost anywhere.

    It is wise to look both at liberal arts and art schools ’cause as you now now Ifrom your travels there is a huge difference.

    Jack will have one response now, a different one next fall and still a different one next spring. Which ever he decides nothing is cast in stone as I told my kids.

    My younger daughter picked Carleton College because it had a really good art program which she wanted and also good liberal arts. These days it seems kids need grad school to do anything anyway!!

    I will end here because I didn’t want this to be a tome. It will all work out, enjoy th eprocess and try not to worry too much. It makes life a little easier if we worry less not more.

    Sharon Gorberg artist, art teacher, mom and wife.


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