How I Chose The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

I never wanted to go to college. I never had dreams growing up of where I wanted to spend these four years of my life, what city I wanted to be in, or what I would even want to study. I wanted to be a fine art portrait photographer, and in my mind I didn't need to go to a school to become one. During one of my homeschool art group meetings that was held downtown, our mentor took us to the School of the Art Institute where she had attended years earlier and showed us around. I brought my camera with me and as we were walking up the stairs kept stopping with my friends to take pictures of them. While I was taking pictures in the student lounge, someone came up to us and said that it was a beautiful shot and encouraged my now blushing self.

The environment and community of the school was so welcoming, and as a shy teenager that was a huge deal to me. I've always loved creating and doing it with other people, but growing up I was afraid of judgement in my hometown in Indiana because I was (as far as I know) the only fine art portrait photographer around. I had next to no creative community there. Though I didn't feel awkward taking pictures very easily, it's hard not to feel awkward at all when people in your hometown have never seen a teenage girl laying on a mud pile for a camera. And yes, I did do that. Pretty often actually. And I used to set mattresses on fire too. I was such a weird kid, honestly.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.
— Dorothy Day

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago was the only college I applied for. I decided first, even before applying, that if I didn't get in, then I wouldn't be going to college. Talk about an ultimatum, right? But I knew that the support I felt even in the smallest interactions I had with the community there would be SO influential to my artistic career that I knew it was where I needed to be. Now that I've graduated, I'm fine saying that I got accepted on a condition that I had to take that I had to take (my first ever) test - the SAT, and I did terribly. I put answers in the wrong columns and couldn't keep track of time since I'd never needed to when my mom was giving me tests. 

While I still don't think that higher education is necessary to be a photographer, I wouldn't change my decision for anything. I've learned so many valuable lessons - from how to write a five paragraph paper (which I had never done before, again, #homeschooled), how to work on the same project for weeks at a time to meet a deadline, and how to cook batches of vegan food because the cafeteria doesn't like vegans. I got to stay in Chicago and my relationship with the city and my friends here grew over the years. I got to be involved with so many other creative communities that I wouldn't of learned of had I not been at The School of the Art Institute and in the city itself. :)

Where do you find your community?


Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.