Passion over profession

Student artist takes her future into her own hands

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Jasmine To –– a junior psychology major –– left her paints at home to take classes for two years.

She wanted to pave her way toward a practical, financially-responsible career.

Now, she realizes she’s been working toward a future she didn’t choose for herself. 

For the past ten years, To has been an active visual artist ––– now painting portraits of prominent musicians. She’s known art is her passion for a long time but says her parents discouraged her from making it her career, which is why she pursued a psychology degree at UB this year. Now, living alone for the first time and after recently celebrating her first art show, the 19-year-old transfer student realized she can’t allow others to determine her future for her.

To’s interest in visual art began ten years ago when she first used sketchbooks, building up her skills in art classes. About four years ago, To began experimenting with paints –– something she hadn’t really tried in the past. 

 Painting is now To’s preferred medium, and she specializes in portraits. 

 “It’s very calming, very therapeutic,” To said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be who I am today without art.”

After high school, To attended Hudson Valley Community College as a commuter from her hometown in Colonie, NY. At Hudson Valley, To searched for a career that she found interesting and her parents approved of. She found interest in a psychology class and decided she might as well major in it.

Even though To enjoyed her first class, she didn’t love being a psychology major.

“I’m not really like a school type of person, so I wasn’t very happy in my classes,” To said. “I just felt like I was doing it for my mom and not for me.”

Still, To went forward with her decision –– albeit dispassionately –– and continued in the direction of a career in psychology.  

 And then she moved to Buffalo. 

 Coming to UB marked the first time To lived away from her family.

With a newfound independence, To realized her aspirations carry more weight than others’ and decided she needed to make a change. 

 “I’m here for a reason,” To said. “Why should I waste my time? I’m all the way out here in Buffalo. I should be doing something that makes me happy, not doing what my mom wants me to do.”

 To began the process of switching majors. 


Gordon Myers | The Spectrum

Portrait of Jasmine To.


Jaclyn Dickson –– a sophomore biology major and To’s roommate –– supports To’s decision to explore options in a career that really interests her.

 “This university provides so many choices for students to really explore the exact type of work that they wish to do,” Dickson said. “It would be a waste not to take advantage of that.”

 But To says her mother is opposed to the idea, and she’s worried her family may refuse to support her during school.

To says her mother thought art should remain a hobby, otherwise she would face financial struggles. 

 “My parents expected me to become a doctor, or like a pharmacist, somewhere in the science field,” To said. “My mom supports [my interest in art] but she wasn’t supportive enough for me to pursue it as a career.”

Still, she remains dedicated to her decision.

 “My mom still doesn’t support it. I don’t want to force her to either,” To said. “If she doesn’t want me to then I’ll just take out student loans and pay for it myself.”

Whitney Kendricks –– To’s cousin and oldest friend –– can vouch for To’s passion.

“When you think of Jasmine you think art,” Kendricks said. “Whenever I [went] to her house, she would always just play music and be painting. She would always have a project.” 

But for To, painting isn’t just a hobby; she sells paintings to help support herself. 

In addition to her on-sale collection –– which are showcased and can be purchased on To’s Instagram, @_artbyjas –– To also offers customized paintings that are made to order. Right now, her most expensive piece –– a portrait of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls –– is on the market for $1,100. 

 And her dedication has paid off. She recently had five of her pieces exhibited in an art show in her hometown for the first time last Saturday.

 For To, majoring in art doesn’t mean she plans to be a professional artist. She hopes to finish her psychology degree and is considering pursuing art therapy.

All she knows for certain is that art holds a crucial role in her long-term plans. 

 “I just know I want art to be in my life, instead of just having it on the side,” To said. “I have a better vision of what I want to do.”

Julian Roberts-Grmela is an assistant features editor and can be reached at julian.grmela@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @GrmelaJulian.

JULIAN ROBERTS-GRMELA


Julian Roberts-Grmela is a senior news editor for The Spectrum and an English and philosophy major. His favorite book is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and he hopes that one day his writing will be as good as hers.