I think the title is pretty straight to the point. Im gonna be talking about being a creative in school, whether thats high school, college or university- they are all challenging times for creatives. This ranges from feeling shame that you’re not following a stereotypical academic path, that we are encouraged to follow from the second we step foot into education, to feeling limited by education as to what we are allowed to create or what will get us the best grade.
I didn’t really start actively pursuing creative studies until I was in my last year of high school, it was just something I did in my spare time. I wanted to go into journalism my whole way through school- so I guess somewhat creative but not in the same way that I am today. Anyway, my last year of high school I took art as a GCSE class and found a whole new path that I wanted to go down. I’d still take literature and language in college just to keep my options open, but it wouldn’t really be my main focus. In school, it was weird, I was terrified of people judging my art, I’d keep it hidden and only my tutor would see it, god forbid if my parents had ever saw it, I would have cried. I stayed behind a lot after school to do the work I hadn’t done in class because I would rather muck about in class and then do my work when no one was near me. I was insecure. Oh how things would change. During my art course, I was introduced to actually using photography as an art medium other than just taking pretty snapshots on a weekend. I never knew galleries showcased photography or that it was really even considered art. So, that was the beginning of something.
In college, that is when my camera obsession began. I took film studies and photography (alongside English lit and lang, but they’re boring) and started really creating for the first time. My first year was a bit of a write-off to be honest. It was me constantly begging my tutor for his opinion, asking if my ideas were ok and still being terrified to show my work to anyone. It was the same for my second year up to Christmas when, through the holiday, I had a stern word with myself and decided, I didn’t constantly need a tutors approval for my work and that if I just spent more time thinking it through myself and actually creating, it would work out a lot better. My grades improved massively (not that grades really matter, but they did if I was to go to university I guess). So, lesson number one; Don’t seek constant approval from others. At this point of my creativeness, I was also dead set on specialising in music photography, so I didn’t fully take fine art seriously. I had my eyes set on a goal and I would be damned if I changed path- if only 17 year old me knew that after a year of uni, I would have totally moved on from that dream. Although, I still wouldn’t turn down a music photography gig, I’d just have to think about how to work it around my style. Through college I completely neglected most things non-photography related, it just wasn’t my top priority, I wanted to make sure I became an expert in my field and between research files and essays, I knew which I preferred doing.
After trying to convince myself I didn’t want to go to uni, I ended up there after college. I combined my knowledge of film and photography and studied “photography, video and digital imaging” so again, my options were open to create video and to refine my skills in adobe premiere, or to focus solely on photography.
University was tough, everyone around me seemed to be doing hyper-academic classes and it made me feel very mediocre studying something that didn’t involve exams. I didn’t feel like I deserved to call myself a university student. Lesson number two; Being creative doesn’t make you less deserving. In my first semester, I had new lecturers to suss out. What kind of photography did they like? What was their aesthetic? How do I do well in their classes?
My first year and second, I did good, but not great. My end goal was to get a first class degree. I’d come so far and I didn’t want anything less than that (to be honest a third would have sufficed, but I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t shit) I got so obsessed with grades and pleasing others that I didn’t feel like I was actually doing the projects I wanted. My best grade was a project that I didn’t particularly listen to any criticism about, I just did it. Lesson number three; For emphasis: Don’t seek constant approval from others. Lesson number Four; Grades don’t actually measure your success. First year grades don’t count so that was pretty chill and year 2 I promised myself I would stop seeking approval and do my own stuff- I managed this most of the time, but there was still always something in the back of my mind questioning whether a specific project was good enough for a specific lecturer and it made me spiral a lot.
Third year was the one where I finally stopped giving a damn about other people liking me and liking my work. Instead of shaking through a presentation, I took deep breaths and spoke concisely through my pitches, I had a clear head to be able to answer an questions that might have been asked and I had prepared answers to these before hand. Showing my work at the end, just before it got graded, felt easy, I was confident about my work for what felt like the first time. I hadn’t tailored it to anyone but myself and I knew exactly what I was doing. I had completed one of my major projects in the summer break, so there was no way I was changing them if someone said it wasn’t good enough. I’d done exactly what I wanted, with no critical input and it worked out for the better and it was one of my best grades and allowed more time for my other projects throughout the semester. In December of my third year I also had surgery, which I thought I should reschedule and not risk my last year, but I didn’t. Again, this was something I wanted to do, it was something I needed to do and I knew I’d be able to work around it. Almost everything this year was planned to the minute before the first semester started and it was all on my terms and I would make it work no matter what. My third year was my best graded year and allowed me to leave university with a first- my goal in the first place. But more than that, I left with confidence and a sense of self and determination. Lesson five; Be confident and determined.
I made lots of calculated decisions in the summer leading up to my last year that I wish that I had done the year before, I got rid of lots of people who were holding me back and I was selfish in putting my future career before anything else and it paid off. Lesson six; Being creative is about putting yourself first and not losing sight of the end goal.
I hope this helps any creatives in education.
You do you and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. This is a time to experiment and flourish, its okay to make mistakes, the path to creativity is a scribble and although confusing and sometimes discouraging, it will work out in the end. There is no right or wrong way to be a creative, only your way.