A letter to the creative: your art has never made you empty


Briana Thomas

Coppell High School senior Briana Thomas appreciates the importance of arts in her growth, and encourages future generations of students to embrace, not devalue, artistic abilities.

A letter of reflection,


Jathiswaram. It was to this Indian Classical piece, despite all its intricacy and required mastery, that I with admirable effort performed a few minutes of footwork for my quickly intrigued fifth grade classroom. Presenting after me was a student who had completed a science project: something small, yet inventive for a young child.


While I was met with short-lived fascination and complete ignorance for the difficulty of the art, he was met with validation and questions about his future.


It was such moments that made me question why the conversations at my dinner table were mostly about progress in the arts realm, rather than the latest economic crisis. Why traditional musical performances, seminars or dance practices, occupied more of my Friday afternoons than anything else.


My parents, like many others who immigrated to America at a young age, wanted to provide me with a path to success. To support me enough to where I could utilize what this country has to offer. But while most believed traditional classrooms were the only route to success or growth, my parents thought otherwise.


In my upbringing, dance studios and concert halls were as sacred of a place of knowledge as a classroom. The lessons I learned from a one hour dance class every Friday were as valuable as a Biology lesson taught at school. My conversations with a writer or musician were as respected as one with a professor. From a young age, I had a natural inclination towards the arts.


But at school, I would learn that a huge part of myself, my love for arts, was often invalidated. The arts were not as highly regarded as academics.


While at times, this equal exposure to arts and academics was difficult to embrace, as I reflect upon who I have become today, I am grateful for it.  


Today, I am confident in my abilities. I have become a sustained, self-directed learner. My immersion and comprehension of different forms of art has made me a better student. One who is unable to be just an outlet for stored facts from direct instruction, rather one who seeks to extend instruction to higher levels of proficiency. I have learned patience and discipline of the most rigorous nature.


I refuse to prioritize my academic abilities over my artistic abilities and pray healing upon a society that does so. Because for me, they are of equal value. I condemn the idea that participation in the arts is for those who do not excel or take interest in academic endeavors and pity those who believe that. I am distressed that however brilliant one could be in their artistic endeavors, to be validated, they must turn to math or science.


If I did not consider the arts to be formative in my growth, I would not be writing this. Involvement, or at least exposure to the arts, is unquestionably essential. Too many students believe it is not or too many have been taught their abilities are without merit.


So this is for you. For the creator, or dreamer inside of you, whose imagination is labeled as a distraction, a substitute or mere complement to academic achievement. I hear the ruffled sheets of your papers, the frustrated sighs you let out when you feel you are not seen – I see you, I hear you and I feel you – because I am you. Please do not let your high school career tell you that your purpose must be found solely amongst science laboratories or math tournaments, as I once did. While math and science certainly are enriching outlets, they are not the only ones.


The extent of your ability is not justified solely from within the confines of your report card. At times, school will allow you to believe so, and for this I am sorry. I apologize on behalf of a society who will determine your worth based on your academic performance. But know, it is not forever. It is not forever because what is within you could not possibly be contained or frightened by a system.


You are powerful. The stories you will tell and create through the intricate movements of your hands, strokes of your paintbrush, or words poetically transformed into emotion – these artistic forms of expression are of a complexity that even the most distinguished scholar could not truly understand.


High school will not be easy but the journey of an artist never will be. You are meant to be challenged, broken and then to bloom. So in this letter, I do not seek to give you satisfaction or comfort. Because what possesses true power and impact, cannot be affirmed by a grade point average or consoled by my words.


Rather, I will give you this simple piece of advice: your art is enough to make you whole. Do not allow others to fill you only with what they think you need. Because despite what they told you, you were never empty.