Our September Playlist is Here - Art Schooled

bw photo of woman seatedBefore we get to this month's playlist, I wanted to talk about how I got here.  For years, I’d scroll past articles like “435 Things You Should Have Done By Age 13” and feel terrible about myself because my journey to becoming a jewelry artist was not straightforward. We all know those people who decided in utero to be a lawyer and then ran a straight shot for their chosen career, never wavering and made partner in their law firm at age 31. That was not me and for a long time I felt bad about that. It seems like there’s all this pressure to figure out your life’s path right after high school and then just continue logging achievements for the rest of your life. 

Growing up, I knew I wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t know exactly what that would be, whether in the performing or visual arts. After trying and failing many times to get cast in any of my high school productions, I decided go to art school and figured I’d worked out the details there. I ended up going to the Kansas City Art Institute because it was in driving distance to where I grew up, but far enough away that I couldn’t live at home. Not only was I dying to live somewhere, anywhere, other than where I grew up (hi Omaha!), but I felt it was really important for my development as a person to not have one foot at home.   

Before going to KCAI, I was fairly indifferent to school. I just found it boring and uninspiring. Going to KCAI changed all of that. For the first time, I was choosing to go to school (and I was in it for a lot of future money.) I was excited by my classes and felt challenged by the work.  I couldn’t just phone it in – I had to try really hard and it was exhilarating!I loved my philosophy classes as well as my studio classes. I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life, often begging off of social activities to stay late painting or writing.

After school was a different story, however. I really wanted to make it as a fine artist, a painter specifically, but with few connections and huge loan payments coming due, I couldn’t just take time off to develop my work, so I got the first of a series of crappy jobs and worked on my paintings on the evenings and weekends. I did this for a loooong time. I would explain at job interviews that I was well qualified to do whatever drudgery they required and instructed the interviewer to ignore the art stuff on the résumé. As soon as I got off work, I would eat some food and then work in my studio until bedtime. It was like living two separate lives and I felt a lot of guilt about not being able to transition to only surviving on my art.

Once I moved out to California in 2009, I again started the day job/night art grind, but I at my new boyfriend’s urging, I also started selling my handmade greeting cards online and at a few in-person events. It was fun! I had always felt a little ambivalent in selling paintings because they were both necessarily expensive due to the time each one took, but also seemed somewhat elitist because of the dearth of art education in the US. Greeting cards were art that I could offer for lower prices and were of recognizable subjects, so they were a little more approachable than my abstract paintings.

Eventually I realized the business reality that I couldn’t charge enough to make the sales of individually crafted greeting cards make sense, so I switched to hats and hair accessories. I carried on doing that in the evenings and weekends while still working the office job in the day until I decided that I wanted out of the daily grind. My office job was increasingly awful due to a toxic boss and so I increased by savings efforts until I finally made my escape in 2015.

I carried on making hats and hair accessories for another year until I started feeling limited by the possibilities. I’d loved fashion forever and I liked making things to wear, but hats are a hard sell in the US, particularly the fancy party hats I was selling. I mostly sold to people for parties and brides, but it was a tough market. Plus, I always wanted to wear my products as a lowkey everyday kind of marketing, but I didn’t want to wear hats every day – jewelry yes, but hats, no.

So I started drawing in my sketchbook with colored markers and eventually came up with some jewelry designs I wanted to produce. After a lot of Google research, I created my first collection in time for the holiday season and it was a hit! And I finally felt like my interests and my job made sense to me, combining my loves for art and fashion. Once I realized that, the rest – making a decent living – just seemed like details versus an existential quest for a meaningful life.

This rather lengthy prologue leads me to September’s playlist. So despite my earlier sense that everyone successful had figured out their paths early on, this playlist is dedicated to the people who took a few turns to find their way. This playlist is completely comprised of musicians who went to art school. And truly, art school made me who I am. It helped me develop my critical thinking, made me more comfortable with ambiguity and honed my artistic sensibility.  Before assembling this playlist, I knew of a few musicians offhand who had gone to art school, such as David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Duran Duran and David Bowie, but I was delighted to find out about so many more, such as Pulp, PJ Harvey and Chuck D. So without further ado, here is this month’s playlist Art Schooled. 

xo, 

Kaelen