To The Girl With The Measuring Stick,
Written by Whitney Batres
You knew you wanted to be an artist since you were four. You filled countless sketchbooks with ideas and thoughts and questions; with faces you knew and faces you imagined; with smudges and colors and lines.
You only applied to one school, one program. There was no backup plan because you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. You were ecstatic to receive the acceptance letter, and relieved; relieved because this was it, this was all there ever was. There was no alternative.
You spent four years doing what you loved, but not without a price. You learned quickly that talent wasn’t enough, that the years you spent practicing your composition and figures didn’t mean a thing in the face of a critique. You learned how to question your own work, how to cushion criticism with compliments, how to hide your tears until you could sneak away to the bathroom. But tucked in there, you tasted the sweetness of success, of finally feeling understood and like you were on the right track. You finished your last semester with a confidence you hadn’t felt in years.
And then you graduated. You shook hands with your dean and hugged your professors’ necks and looked to the future with so much hope.
Your friends started to move away. They started getting acceptance letters to graduate programs you yourself had been looking at just months prior, and residencies in far off places that you’d only dreamed of visiting. They won awards and landed exhibitions and achieved what you’d only been wanting since you were four: making an actual living off their art. You smiled and congratulated them and tried not to let the heartbreak show. You told yourself it was selfish and wrong to feel so sad in the wake of their success. They’d worked hard to get where they were, they deserved what they’d gotten.
Instead, you were working an office job to pay the bills and making art when you could. You felt you should have been working harder, should have been where your peers were at already. Each rejection letter was just another reason to quit, another reason to stop wasting your time. You told yourself that if you were a real artist, you wouldn’t have been playing catch up with people your own age and younger. Success should have already come like it did for everyone else.
“What’s the point?” you asked yourself when you held up the measuring stick and found yourself short. You obviously weren’t as good as you once thought you were; how could you have been so big-headed?
You kept creating, though. You judged yourself harshly and thought it wasn’t very good, but you did it anyways. You applied and applied - and were subsequently rejected and rejected - until finally, at the behest of dear friends, you took a leap of faith and it actually turned out okay. You put yourself out there and waited with baited breath as strangers studied your work. Someone asked for a price and didn’t balk at your reply, and when they pulled out their checkbook you stared in disbelief.
After years of failure, this small success was the sweetest you’d ever tasted, and you couldn’t believe you’d been so close to throwing it all away.
You finally uttered your fears aloud and realized you weren’t the only one who was scared they’d only ever fail. You realized that each path was different and that for each success there were a hundred failures behind it. You relearned the value of community and taking chances, even when the odds were high it would hurt. You remembered what it felt like to take pride in what you created, and to finally dream again.
To this day, you have to remind yourself that your office job doesn’t make you less of an artist; the number of followers you have doesn’t determine your work’s value; you don’t have to follow anyone else’s trajectory but your own. But, still, you wear the title of “artist” proudly, even when it hurts less not to.
Because, after all, this is what you’ve always dreamed of, and a little bit of failure won’t stop you now.
Whitney Batres is a visual artist who currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and their cat, Karen. In 2015, she graduated with a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin and stuck around for the people and the food. She loves travel, textiles and patterns, and true crime documentaries. Her favorite color is pink.