In the midst of a world characterized by accelerating change, the qualities of creativity, holistic thinking, and innovation — the hallmarks of an art and design education — are increasingly in demand. We asked A&D alums to describe how they got from here (A&D) to there (a career) and the tools and techniques that helped them find their way.

I wish I had known sooner that there was more than one ‘successful’ outcome from studying art and design. My achiever’s orientation could only see one— creating a body of work that would result in my being famous! I thought doing the work was a means to that end. The tricky wonder of art training is in the fact that you can’t really make art (or a life) that way.

Creativity arises in certain conditions, and fortunately those conditions require that you relinquish most of your smallish (and largish) ideas about yourself.

 Given my success perspective, there was so much riding on how good the work was at each minute. How can you possibly get good at something when you are so stressed about how good you are that you can’t work?

Studying art and working at making art has turned out to be a way more radical activity than I imagined. And I have learned many secrets about how we can live well and happily.  It requires that we learn to live without constantly needing ego reinforcement. That is what actually frees us to tinker at something with no idea whether it’ll result in something tangible or admired or profitable.  It requires that we begin to recognize, trust and encourage those embers that become the fires in our bellies.  Rather than steering by trends, praise from others, expert advice, or career plans, I found our training equipped me with real skills, resourcefulness and creativity.

Moreover, there is no career to build, there is only the daily returning to what are our real concerns, what do we really care about, which isn’t always what anyone else is going to be caring about at that particular time or place.

There is no neat timetable — years may pass when we (and others) may wonder what we are doing.

The challenge is and always has been the courage to be simply who we are, following the interests we actually find arising in us. It is not about building an identity, but about accepting that we have one.

If there is joy in working with our hands and eyes and materials and images, whatever they are, there is every reason in the world to study art or design.

What I value most that I learned in art school was finding the key to taking the elevator down deep into myself— to see that my first ideas were almost always irrelevant or not of sustaining interest; they were just jumping off points to begin the involvement.

 I used to agonize over what to draw, what to paint, and more broadly what kind of work to do, what kind of life to live etc.  What I found was that there is a whole other level of involvement that only kicks in when we cede control, lose our idea, and land in some deeper water where we actually are more fully awake.  Then we’re open, noticing something not even seen or felt before— and it is way more alive and interesting than what we thought we were interested in. Always follow that life.  That is where the safety is. It isn’t in figuring out which careers are going to be in demand when we graduate.

Training in the arts is really training in how to make authentic contact, from the belly, with our life— which is always right where we are.

Joan Sugihara, BFA '72, is the co-creator, with her daughter, of the Baggu, a reuseable, collapsible shopping bag. For more information, visit baggubag.com.

This story, along with Linda Holliday: Making the Case for Creative Thinking, are reprinted from the Summer 2010 issue of A&D's publication, Emergence.