In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know illustrator Sarah Klinger.
Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley
When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
I’m still not clear on my expectations for myself, but I was especially frantic in my early 20s. I saw what looked like two clear paths emerge before me. The first was to find a steady job at a company where I could work my way up, doing something I could stand. This is what most people I knew did, and it seemed like a sensible and realistic expectation—to be comfortable and somewhat unsatisfied existentially.
The second option was to pursue something I was passionate about, which I assumed would mean a very unpredictable and stressful existence.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
As per my answer above, I think that society tells you that as an artist you must either suffer, sell out or give up art to be financially successful. Why can’t we have it all?
What was your first job like?
My first “real” job out of college was very much along the first imagined career path because it had little to do with my passions or interests. But I got to work with a lot of really smart, interesting and compassionate people, and that counted for a lot.
What was your first apartment like?
My first apartment was kind of shabby and not terribly functional, but I am still kind of in love with it. Kind of like most things in my 20s.
In what ways did your friendships change?
I didn’t expect my friendships to grow closer in my twenties—I figured that we would be too distracted by trying to carve out our places in the world. But, as I should have realized, that struggle makes having close friends even more important.
How do you feel society viewed you?
It feels like society views young people, young girls especially, as reckless consumers. In every sense. But I admit that didn’t try very hard to prove them wrong. Actually, I still feel that way.
How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
It’s such a cliché, but the more I see of the world, the less it feels like I understand it. I love to speculate and generalize about other people’s feelings and motivations all over the world, but my own experiences have been so narrow that I don’t have a good perspective at all.
Who was your biggest influence and why?
My collective family and friends were my biggest influence. Who else can you trust?
Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?
In my early twenties, I remember telling my mom that art wasn’t important because nobody ever died without it. Even if I could admit that art brings happiness to people and makes the world fuller, I wasn’t talented enough to make a difference.
But the more I traveled, the more I started to feel the obvious thing that people have been telling me forever, which is how lucky I am. I felt it more than ever when I took a trip to India with my brother. Another cliché, I know!
Most people (and women especially) don’t get to decide what they do in their lives, but I do. What an arrogant waste it would be to throw away my chance to do what I want. Does it even matter if art is important to the world? I’m responsible for what art means to me, and I’d be an idiot to let the opportunity pass me by.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
Of course I wish that I had really felt this urgency to go into the arts when I was in college, or even high school. I might be much further along in my career by now.
But another part of my counters that maybe starting out in art would mean I didn’t want it as much? Ruminating on what I ought to have done is pointless because nobody grows in a perfectly straight line. Things just get better and better.