Stepping Out of the Box

Emily Jillson posing for Kate in a staged photo, Petersham, MA, Summer 2012. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan
Emily Jillson posing for Kate in a staged photo, Petersham, MA, Summer 2012. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan

By Kate Tattan

This route just takes a little more self-perseverance and determination

Don’t ask me why, but I had brought it up again in hopes that maybe, this time, they would change their minds. To me, it made perfect sense to go to art school and pursue my love for fashion and photography in a more professional way. My parents thought otherwise. I had heard the same old song and dance from them time after time. “But Kate, you won’t get a job if you go to art school,” they would say. I would shake my head as tears welled up in my eyes and then storm off to my room. Not this time though. No, this time I was feeling particularly determined.

A recent piece from Kate’s updated portfolio, Petersham, MA, Winter 2013. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan
A recent piece from Kate’s updated portfolio, Petersham, MA, Winter 2013. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan

Earlier that day, I had talked with one of the art teachers at my high school about where I wanted to take my love for photography. I couldn’t shut up. My eyes wide and eager, I sat on the edge of an art stool, practically about to fall off, as one of the art teachers took me on adventures of their days in art school. I’d spent a decent amount of time over that past year (junior year of high school into my senior year) in the colorful art rooms decorated with famous works of art, developing my portfolio but most of all, just talking. I couldn’t take art while I was in high school because it didn’t fit into my crowded schedule. So, I tended to make a B-line for the art department as soon as the last bell rang, releasing me from my jail cell otherwise known as math class. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when I sat and just bounced stories and ideas off of the art teachers—they got it. They understood how it felt to not be understood.

I was passionate as passionate could get about my artistic mind. I had known what I was meant to do since I was about 12 and I was willing to fight for it. I felt like one of those mis-understood artists from long ago that was usually exiled to some secluded location to soak in their sorrow and hide their unexplained talent, as dramatic as that may sound. Really, though, people who aren’t artistic tend to have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye with people who are and understanding what’s going through their mind.

I’d spend countless hours sprawled out on my double bed, in my room vibrantly decorated with photos ripped from magazines like Teen Vogue, Vogue, and Glamour, staring at whatever magazine had just come in the mail. The ads and fashion spreads in these magazines were a work of art that I, too, yearned to create myself. Not everyone looks at a magazine, of this sort, like this. While you may be skipping over the ads featuring frightfully expensive items, I’m not even looking at the item as much as I am gawking at the sheer perfection of how the photo was put together. The lighting. The props. The elaborate scenery, or lack thereof. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more in life. When I have my camera in hand, or even when I’m looking at a fashion magazine, I feel like I can’t get outside quick enough.

As I stepped in the front door of my country-town home, I could feel the words quickly work their way up through me and before I knew it I was blurting out, “I’m going to art school!”

My mom and dad stared at me for a moment. My dad’s eyes immediately shot to my mom who had abruptly stopped chopping the vegetables on the old wooden cutting board. I could tell they were, in their minds, carefully selecting the right thing to say to me. As if they haven’t heard this before, I thought, slyly rolling my eyes to myself. I’ve brought this up countless times over the past few years, but it never ends in my favor. Like always, they tried to kindly steer me away from the ideas I had conjured up within me of going to art school. They fully supported my love of photography and fashion and the abilities I had, but as concerned parents, they didn’t see me being able to get a prosperous job after school. It was as though I was in a tunnel with only one way out. They had suggested many-a-time just going to a regular college and continuing my photography on the side, but I saw no other path but attending an art school.

Emily Jillson posing for Kate in a staged photo, Petersham, MA, Summer 2012. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan
Emily Jillson posing for Kate in a staged photo, Petersham, MA, Summer 2012. Photo courtesy of Kate Tattan

The argument heated up. The tears gathered in my eyes. I had shut myself off from whatever they were saying. I heard bits of sentences such as, “It’s just not practical,” and, “You can just do it on the side for fun.” But, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I started a brisk walk, almost run, up to my room. My thoughts raced in my head. I told myself I would never again try to explain to them how much I longed to attend art school. Then, as I reached my door, my thoughts landed. I’ll just apply myself, I thought. I sat down at my desk and navigated my way to the Art Institute of Boston’s home page as fast as my fingers allowed me. This was it. I was going to apply to art school. Myself. For the first time, I was going to truly make a decision on my own, without parental consent. Emotions surged inside me with a mixture of revenge and excitement. As bad as it may sound, I thought, I’ll show them!

It was more than perfect because I had a portfolio made up and ready to go. I clicked submit and there it was. I shut out the discouragement of everyone around me saying I couldn’t do it, and I made a choice for myself.

Some things just have to be done on your own. As much as I tried time and time again, my parents would try to sway me, not because they don’t support me and what I love, but because they just want what they see to be the best possible outcome for their child. This is something I’m sure any other parent can identify with. I have the utmost of respect for my parents; they are both successful in life with careers that they love. I aspire to be as happy as they are someday. But, my mom went to school for science, and my father is an electrician. Both excel in their jobs. But, let’s be honest with ourselves here- both fields are on the complete other side of the spectrum from art. When I thought more rationally, I understood where they were coming from. There will always be that looming stereotype about art degrees not leading to well-paying jobs.

Beaten down by so many people telling me this in my late junior year of high school, I was swayed. I started to freak out the more I heard from my parents and other people, including many of my teachers, that I wouldn’t get a job as a photographer and/or photo-journalist. I had started to grow up more as I closed in on the end of high school and was starting to think more and more about getting a job and making money. Thinking practically like my parents, it got the best of me. As I applied to colleges such as Worcester State, Keene State, and Anna Maria, I wrote that I wanted to study to become an English teacher. English was what I was always best at in school so it did make sense and there was more of a chance that I’d get a good job. But, it just sill didn’t seem right.

A few months later, my mom walked up to my room and handed me a rather large envelope with large, bold, red writing on the front from the Art Institute. She stood patiently at my shoulder as I opened it, curious as to why I had received it. As I read the first line reading, “Congratulations! You have been accepted…” I shrieked!

“What is it?” My mom frantically asked with ruffle in her brow.

I had her read it and she looked at me, quite puzzled. I explained to her what I had done, hardly able to speak with the amount of excitement flowing through me.

Photo used by Kate for her art school application write-up, Erving, MA, Summer 2011. Photo Courtesy of Kate Tattan
Photo used by Kate for her art school application write-up, Erving, MA, Summer 2011. Photo Courtesy of Kate Tattan

Roughly a week or so later, the president of the Art Institute of Boston called me to tell me personally that I was accepted and that they really wanted me to attend their school. They were thoroughly impressed with my portfolio I had sent to them on a disk. My heart pounded rapidly in my chest. It was as though any doubt that was ever placed upon me was lifted. They wanted me? Enough to call me on their own personal time? My thoughts raced, forgetting for a moment who I was even on the phone with. This was what I needed to prove that I was good enough and that I could do it. There was physical proof in that oversized envelope in my hand and talking to me on the phone right in my kitchen! But, I had to talk to my parents.

Senior year of high school flew. I poured myself into my English and writing classes, sticking with my new plan to be an English teacher. I watched my friends gush about their majors they just couldn’t wait to start, but I just felt like I was standing on the outskirts. I sat at our usual lunch table quietly and just listened. The truth was that I didn’t get a rush of butterflies or sudden inspiration when I thought about what was to come for me in three months. I dropped the idea of going to school to become an English teacher and changed my major the week before classes started.

Now a sophomore at Worcester State, I still feel a sting of pain when I think about The Art Institute. Then, it had felt like my dreams had been crushed when my parents told me it was not worth the money- just to receive a bachelor’s degree in photography as opposed to a more “normal” degree. But, there are some things I had to learn to accept at my young age and that ultimately, my parents were paying for most of my college education, and I simply could not afford art school on my own—a tough reality for many students. I met in the middle, not with my parents, but with myself. My determination is like none other. I wasn’t about to let my passion and plans for my future go to waste just because I wasn’t going to an art school. I knew what my strengths were and I knew that I could put them together and still show everyone they were wrong about me.

I’ve been blessed in life, knowing what I’ve wanted to do since middle school. When I talk about my future job–my dream job–with my professors, I’m still at the edge of my seat with my eyes wide. Something inside me feels whole and I know I’m on the right path, working to be a photojournalist. It really is the best of both worlds because I get to continue both things I love, neither one neglected. One thing I had to learn though, which is very tough might I add, is that there are alternate paths to getting where I want to be someday. This route just takes a little more self-perseverance and determination, both of which I have.


More of Kate’s work can be found on her tumblr KateTattanPhotography

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