Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nurturing Creativity

by Kristine Coblitz

I have a younger cousin who will graduate from high school next year. She’s currently looking into colleges and hopes that her grades are good enough to get her into the school of her choice. She’s an artist with true talent, and sometimes I’m actually blown away by her creativity and imagination.

She has a bright future ahead of her, but she’s learning that starting a career in the arts is not easy. She faces opposition from well-meaning family members who want her to pursue a more practical and money-making field. She feels the pressure of fierce competition with her peers and harsh critiques from teachers. She’s considered giving up a few times and has asked me whether being an artist is worth living through the grief and heartache.

This is where it gets tricky. On one hand, I want to tell her that it is worth it and that going after her true passion is the most important thing in the world. However, on the other hand, I also want to be honest with her and tell her that this struggle with insecurity isn’t going to go away and that the road to being an artist will be fraught with both joy and disappointment.

How much do I tell her without scaring her?

Looking back, the teachers and mentors I’ve respected the most were the ones who were brutally honest with me, so I’ve tried to keep that in mind when talking with my younger cousin. I’m teaching her by example, which I feel is the best thing I can offer her at this critical stage of her creative journey.

I’ve tried to describe the euphoria of a productive writing session. I’ve told her about the many times I had to rewrite the beginning of my first manuscript because my mentor, a veteran writer, repeatedly told me it wasn’t good enough. I’ve told her about the episodes when I broke into tears over my keyboard. And yes, I’ve told her about the depression and anxiety I still face nearly every day.

But mostly, I’ve told her that I wouldn’t trade any of it and that living without regret is possibly the best gift she can give herself in addition to the college degree she is actively seeking.

So now I ask all of you: What advice has changed your life and what words of wisdom would you pass on to the next generation?


Gina said...

I tell young people to keep an open mind because everything changes. It's hard to plan for the future, because the future may turn out to be completely different than you expect it to be. When I was in high school in the 1960s, the practical girls studied key-punching (because computers were the wave of the future) and the practical boys aspired to steady jobs in the mills (because "they'll always need steel"). Impractical kids wanted to go to college and study interesting subjects with no career potential. Forty years later, key-punch operators no longer exist and most of the mills have closed. And of my close friends, the one who became the greatest success in society's terms -- upper management with a major international financial concern and six-figure income -- had gotten a graduate degree in English! I'd say follow your bliss, but develop skills for a day job.

Joyce said...

Kristine, it's good that your cousin has an idea of what she wants to do with her life. I never figured it out until I hit 40!

I'm amazed at how younger people know what they want. My kids know exactly what they want to do and what they need to do to get there. They're both supposed to be on break right now, but Andy is reading 8 books his professor/advisor recommended and Josh is reading medical texts (even though he has a couple of years to go to even get to med school). I never had that kind of focus.

So, I think she should follow her heart, but like Gina said, develop other skills, too. I would recommend a good liberal arts school where she'll get a well-rounded education, with lots of variety.

Nancy said...

Best advice I ever heard was from a somewhat drunken Kurt Vonnegut, who said, "Marry well." Now that means marrying someone who has health insurance and a steady paycheck. I couldn't be a writer without my husband--and that's a fact. Even earning a 6-figure book advance means the cash flow is sporadic. (Including a couple of skimpy royalty checks, I was paid a grand total of 3 times last year--which makes keeping bank accounts balanced very tricky.) Single book contracts heighten the anxiety that goes with selling something new before you've finished the last one. But multi-book contracts mean you get the bulk of the money at the beginning, so you're sucking for air by the time you finish the 3rd book.

You're right--artists need to be practical. A college education is important---not just for the skills a person learns but the time it takes to gain some practical knowledge about the world and see the examples of a lot more people. And becoming a lifetime team-mate of someone who loves being gainfully employed can make all the difference.

Tory said...

I'd try to explain to her how being an artist isn't the "either/or" thing it seems to be in High School. I know a lot of artists, but very few of them make a living full-time on only what they earn from their art. People can integrate art into their life and work in many creative and diverse ways. If you think of your life as the work of art you are creating, you can learn not to get stuck in rigid categories of being an artist or not being one.

I like Nancy's answer, too.

lisa curry said...

Kristine, this gave me a lot of food for thought on the way to and from work today and inspired my blog contribution for tomorrow. My advice is the quotation I'm using at the end of it.