Katie Pickell, Living Life Through Art

Katie Pickell is an artist. Holding a broken paintbrush that she stole from her high school art studio, she effortlessly whips up a bright blue shade of paint from a mixture of colours.

“I kind of skate through life,” she says. “But when it comes to art, I’m very driven—I do put in the time and effort required, and then more.”

Pickell, 20, is studying Visual Art at Western. She has three to five sketchbooks in her bag at all times, and is always doing some form of art—be it digital, paint, or simple sketches.

“I’m [in Labatt Visual Arts Centre] all day painting, drawing, networking, and doing all this stuff, and then I go home, and to relax, I draw,” Pickell explains. “I never really stop doing and learning when it comes to art, and I’m not really like that with anything else.”

Ever since she was young, she was pulled towards art, she says. Art was a way to express her passion and her creativity. However, her drive to study art has been met with a constant uphill battle. Opposition from parents and peers has made Pickell very defensive of her choice.

“My dad initially was opposed to me studying art, and it wasn’t until I actually sat down with him and said, look—these are all the careers I can get in the Arts, and I’ve already started working on my portfolio, that he actually agreed,” she says emphatically. “I’m driven when it comes to this, and I’m not driven when it comes to anything else.”

Now, Pickell says her father is more supportive as he realizes there are more careers available for Arts graduates than he initially thought.  But a large portion of people she knows are still uneducated as to what really constitutes an Arts degree.

Pickell’s guidance counsellor in high school was especially dismissive of her choice to study art, telling her there were simply no jobs in the field, and that she should pick something else. But Pickell realized that doing something that she loves was more important than making money.

“There is this emphasis that the only way to have a good life is somehow to be rich, or making lots of money,” she says. “Some people’s goals are not to be jacked up to Jesus with cash... my dream is to do what I love and pay the bills. That’s all you really need.”

A large part of Pickell’s struggle with studying Arts is the need to justify her choice to people who might not see it as a viable career option. Not only does this frustrate her, it breeds contempt in Arts students, as well as between faculties that suffer from a lack of understanding of what the other does. Additionally, it places Arts as an inherently lower quality degree than something traditionally regarded as easier to earn money, she adds.

“People think you’re dumb [in this program],” says Pickell, and is met with a murmur of agreement among her classmates. “They think you’re stupid, but there is no correlation between intelligence and creativity.”

Creativity is something that is worked on, according to Pickell and the other Arts students. Many believe that creativity is lacking in rigorous programs such as Ivey Business school and Engineering.

“I know so many [business] kids who are super intelligent but are stunted in terms of creativity,” Pickell notes. “Creativity gives people an outlet…these kids are so stressed—so am I—but [my stress] feels good, it feels rewarding.”

Brooke Hunter, a classmate of Pickell’s, agrees with the idea that art is of as much value in society as a science or technology-based study.

“There’s a real misunderstanding of what art means,” Hunter says. “To have a well-rounded society, you need everybody, and art is part of that too.”

“I shouldn’t have to justify myself and my program—at all,” Pickell says simply. “Plain and simple, I shouldn’t have to look at someone and justify what I’m doing with my life to someone who doesn’t feel they have to justify their business, science, or engineering degree to me.”

Ordinarily, one wouldn’t associate science with art. However, as Pickell and her classmate, Shelby Hayward, note, art can be found everywhere—even in science textbooks.

“The design on [Pickell’s] shirt: someone was employed to design that,” Hayward says. “The design on that water bottle, someone drew that; in anatomy textbooks, someone draws the diagrams that science kids study off of.”

Picking a profession that feels enriching every single day makes Pickell’s choice worthwhile, however. While some people may have presumptions about what art is and what the future holds, Pickell doesn’t let that stop her from enjoying every minute of her artistic journey. Her art style is centred on life, and living it to the fullest.

“All my art is figurative; it has a death motif,” Pickell explains. “I talk about the idea that life is short—why not make it morbidly funny? Why not live life to the fullest and enjoy doing it?”

She doesn’t know what her plans for the future are—although she has thought about tattoo artistry, digital design and freelance work—but she will figure it out when the time comes.

“No one leaves school and does what their degree says they’re going to do,” she says. “I’m building on my career, and wherever my career goes I’m happy to see it go.”

“Womb to the tomb, I want to have a good time,” she adds. “That’s the motto.”