Real Talk: Creativity

Real Talk: Creativity

I was recently thinking about the worst advice I ever listened to, which sounds like a pretty negative downward spiral to go on, but this story ends good.

What brought this on was my noticing of some serious job envy going on inside of me the last year or so. This was strange because I actually really liked my job, especially when I was making money writing, which I always thought was what I wanted. But whenever I would come across an artist, or a graphic designer, or an interior designer, or an illustrator, or a photographer, or anyone that did anything related to the visual arts, I would be all like, “I want that!!”

The shitty advice that I listened to came from my art teacher nearly ten years ago, God bless him. I know it was spoken with good intention, but I wish I had been like a typical teenager and not taken anything my superiors said seriously.

I was eighteen, and he had just given me an A+ in his highest level class. I was about to meet with a career counsellor and decide what I was going to do for post secondary. 

“Don’t go to art school Katie.”

Huh?

He elaborated and told me to enroll in something that would make it easier for me to find a job after university.

So what did I do? I majored in English Literature.

Just as useless.

But nevertheless my art teacher (and parents/friends/relatives) approved because at least if I majored in a core subject, I could surely land a job as a teacher, something my art teacher (and parents/friends/relatives) all thought I would be very good at.

I liked the idea of having summers off, but that’s about all that excited me when I envisioned my life ten years down the road standing at the front of a classroom.

I am not belittling our educators – I applaud them. It just wasn’t what was calling me.

It may have taken me a decade, but I feel myself circling back to what was tugging at my heart all those years ago. Art, creativity, paint brushes, colour, writing, texture. 

I wanted a studio, not a desk.  

It took me a decade to get really clear on something important to me. I was red wine drunk sitting on my couch in my condo for one of the last times before it sold. I was with a friend talking about my strange job restlessness when it hit me like a blinding flash of the obvious. I thought I was being really profound so I even typed up my words in my phone and quoted myself.

“I don’t want to be the one managing other people’s stuff, or critiquing other people’s work, or writing about other people’s creations. I want to be the one creating the stuff.” – Katie Tetz

I was drunk, and incredibly clear.

It’s a deceptively simple thing to want, and really easy to fall astray from.

Managing people was where the “status” and money was. I couldn’t be satisfied with being a visual merchandiser in retail; that wasn’t good enough. Writing about other people’s companies, creations, and chasing celebrity gossip – that’s where my words could pay the bills. And I couldn’t call myself a writer if I couldn’t pay my bills.

But that’s not what I truly wanted either. 

Which brings me to what spurred this rant – another Real Talk question.

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I’ve read a lot of good this-changed-my-life-books, but my newest favourite is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Eat, Pray, Love lady).

This book is a creative person’s dream.

She’s (almost) totally got me convinced to let go of the external results that can once and awhile come from a person’s creativity. She makes an amazing argument that those results are not the point. I say almost because I guarantee that if I write my book and some big mean critic tells me it’s shit, I’ll be a little upset.

Of course I like it when someone tells me they like my blog, but that validation cannot be why one makes stuff. Of course it would be great to make a living through art, but reading Big Magic left me feeling like it just doesn’t matter. And because it doesn’t matter,  I won’t feel like I’m not a “real writer” until I cash a giant book advance. I won’t feel like I can’t pick up a paint brush just because I didn’t go to art school. This book reminded me that the only way we can live a happy creative life is to do it for the love.

I’m not sure exactly what all this job envy is pointing to, but when I look at my coworker’s photography, or my cousins paintings, or when I snuck upstairs to a distant relatives art studio in Germany three summers ago…something tugs at my heart. Every time. Without fail. And while my unintentional career in retail has it’s ups and downs, the one thing I continue to love is the thing that lets me play with colour and design and texture, visual merchandising.

It’s been a decade and I can’t shake it. I like being the one creating the stuff. Period.

So as much as I wish I hadn’t listened to my art teacher’s shit career advice, I know better now. And I hope I’ve lived enough to recognize that advice next time I hear it. Of course it won’t be in those exact words, but the message is always the same: That thing you want, whatever that thing is, is only worth pursuing if it’s going to make you money.

What a lie.

I like Elizabeth Gilbert’s thinking: “We still have enough space left in our civilization for the luxuries of imagination and beauty and emotion – and even total frivolousness. Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable. It’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”

I am finishing a book this year and I bought some paint brushes a few weeks ago. If I ever sell a book or have an art show, that’s cool, and it’s also okay if those things don’t happen.

But if they do, I will most definitely be sending my old art teacher an invite.