Flash Fiction: Art is not a Job. Or is it?

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 7. Two and a half hours were spent on this piece; this is the third draft of the story. The prompt: “Write about a discovery.

Art is not a Job. Or is it?

“Art is not a job,” Dad bellows, rising from his seat at the dining table where bowls of spaghetti lay forgotten. “It’s a hobby. Not a life. If you want to go to college, then you need to pick a field that can provide you a career with jobs that pay. We will not spend a fortune to have you learn to draw pretty pictures.” His face is red and the vein on his forehead that looks like the east coast of Florida bulges prominently.

I look over to mom. Maybe she could—

“Your dad’s right, Allison,” Mom says. She looks down at her cupped hands. “I’m sorry. You are a talented painter and your drawings always amaze me, but that kind of life, it’s just not feasible, financially. Supporting yourself would be impossible. An art degree would be a waste, of money and your ambition.”

Dad nods. He sits back down. “Now let’s discuss better options for your edu—”

I push up from the table and storm out of the dining room.

“Allison!” they both call after me. 

I beeline for the stairs and rush up them. 

“Allison, come back here,” Dad calls. “We are not done discussing this.”

I burst into my room and slam the door closed, causing the nearby photos and paintings hanging on the wall to rattle. After locking the door, I stand in the middle of the room, a flood of emotions consuming me—anger, despair, frustration, hopelessness. I want to scream at Dad, at Dom, at this town, at everyone.

Instead, I sit down at my desk. I unpause the episode of The Legend of Korra, an animated show on Netflix I’d been watching before dinner in hopes of distracting myself from how the college conversation would go. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

I shouldn’t have said anything about art school.

Snatching a nearby mechanical pencil, I pull out a sketchbook and open to a blank page. I don’t know what I’m drawing, I just need to move the pencil, to put graphite to page, to create something, anything. I don’t want to think about anything, feel anything. Not easy to do when creating art. It doesn’t take long before the drawing dissolves into a mass of indecipherable scribbles. 

“Arg!” I slam the pencil down and jump up. Growling, I march over to the open window. 

It’s a sunny day with a soft blue sky and whimsical white clouds gently flowing in the breeze. I want to toss buckets of black paint on the entire beautiful day, smear it with dark, grating, angry colors.

I attach a virgin white canvas to the nearby easel and pull out my acrylics. I stab the brush into the paints before smacking it into the canvas. I’m not painting a landscape or a portrait or anything recognizable. I am throwing out my emotions, splotches and blotches and swirls and splashes of black, red, orange, purple, and blue. The emotion transference helps. Kinda.

I shouldn’t have expected anything different from them, especially Dad. They’ve both been trapped in this small town since birth. They both come from blue-collar families—goldmines then rock quarries on mom’s side; farm fields for dad’s side. Mom works in the office at the quarry; Dad works in the quarry—he’d been the rebel and broken the farming tradition.

Neither of them had ever wanted more, never wanted to leave this place. They never wanted to create. A steady paycheck was all they cared about. Didn’t matter if you actually liked the job or not. 

“Jobs aren’t meant to be loved, they were meant to be done,” Dad said at dinner.

I wanted to love my job. I wanted to create art. Anything less felt like a waste.

The canvas was an atrocity; the word chaotic did not even begin to describe the muddy mess of colors that cover it. 

I drop the paintbrush into the tin of paint thinner. Then I collapse back into my desk chair, sniffling, my throat tight and the taste of salt on my tongue. On the computer monitor, The Legend of Korra episode ends, and the first set of credits pop up: written by, directed by, executive producers. Then the countdown to auto-play the next episode appears. 

My eyes grow wide, and I scramble for the mouse. I click the Watch Credits button. The screen expands and the rest of the episode’s credits roll by: storyboard artists, character design, background artists, prop design, layout artists, animators. Titles, positions, jobs; dozens and dozens of people listed under them.

“People make animation,” I whisper. “People, artists, make animation. At animation studios.” 

I already knew this, of course. But, well, I guess I’d never really thought of it as something people did for a paycheck, as a job, a career. Until now. 

Why had I never realized this? What if . . .

I open a new web browser tab, go to Google, and search: jobs in animation.

At 3 AM, I finally stop researching and printing and preparing.

Later that morning, my hair a frazzled mess and wearing the same clothes as the day before, I march into the dining room and dump a half dozen packets of stapled papers onto the table. Mom and Dad jump, the coffee in their mugs sloshing around dangerously. They peer questioningly at the papers now littering the table. Then they turn their confused gazes on me. They also have dark bags under their eyes.

“Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers,” I say, ticking off each name on a finger. “And those are just some of the big name animation studios, the ones most people know about. There are other studios, such as Film Roman. Not household names, but studios that produce animation year after year.”

I press my index finger onto a packet. “Thousands of artists work at these studios. They get consistent pay at good wages, health and dental insurance, 401ks, training, sick time, everything you’d expect a business to offer an employee. There’s even a union, The Animation Guild, to make sure the studios don’t screw over their employees.”

Dad’s eyebrows rise at mention of a union and a glimmer of interest shines in his eyes. He had over twenty years in his union.

I gesture at the papers. “It’s all here. Job descriptions, starting salaries, day in the life interviews with artists working in the industry, recommended college degrees, everything.”

Mom and Dad glance back at the papers then at each other. Some unspoken communication passes between them. Dad gets up from the table and walks into the kitchen. 

I now understand what it means to deflate like a balloon. I want to collapse in on myself. My throat tightens and tears attempt to force their way out. 

I thought this would work. Show them being a working artist is possible. It wasn’t enough. 

I glance at mom. She’s peering up at me thoughtfully, as if she just made some unexpected realization.

The clank of a glass being removed from a cupboard sounds from the kitchen, followed by pouring liquid. Soon, Dad walks back into the dining room. He places a filled mug of coffee onto the table in front of me. Then he looks at me, serious but smiling.

“Okay, you have our attention.” He sits down and gestures to all the stapled packets littering the table. “Tell us more.”