Close Observer: Peter Carrington’s Path to Purpose

MSU Hub intern and Journalism senior Stephanie McGavin reflects on interviewing artist Peter Carrington

Stephanie McGavin, Hub internStephanie McGavin is a senior studying journalism at MSU and a media and communications intern at the MSU Hub. For the Hub, Stephanie assists with the production and editing of written, video, and research work.

Science illustrator Peter Carrington’s art collection is currently on display in Brody Square. Carrington, also an assistant curator of Michigan State’s W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, has been combining his passion for art and science in his work for more than 40 years.

Carrington recently sat down for an interview with several producers of his art installation from the MSU Science Festival, Brody Neighborhood Engagement Center and Career Services Network. Together, the artist and producers talk about the different themes present in Carrington’s journey as a science illustrator: passion, purpose, identity and intersections in art and science.

Through all my schooling I was constantly given conflicting advice on whether to “follow my dreams” or “prepare for reality.” And like many students, time and money didn’t afford me the luxury of immersing myself in my education.

So when I sat down to interview Peter Carrington, I found that he was never really directed by anything but what he loved. Peter knew what he was passionate about since he was a kid and he created the rules for the kind of future he wanted — he didn’t follow them.

For Peter, passion gives life purpose. That purpose motivates and inspires us, encouraging us to be active learners with exciting career journeys. But figuring out a lifelong motivation isn’t that easy for the average student.

Artist Peter Carrington
Artist Peter Carrington

I’ve learned over the years that it’s cost-efficient to get school finished quickly, it’s easier to race by required Gen-Ed courses, and it makes long nights less painful to focus on the end product instead of the process.The conflicting pieces of advice that pitted my dreams against reality forced me to change my major three times, settling into journalism, which made sense but which I didn’t enjoy.

Nearly a year after joining the major, I realized how miserable I was going to be if I just kept settling. It was here that I had a professor who sent us out to do real journalism work in the community and whose class mantra was, “Do what you love, love what you do.” When I started reporting stories that genuinely mattered to me, I began to pull from my own interests. With a little prodding from a professor, and the independence to go discover what I actually wanted to do with journalism, I found my niche. Just like Peter, I could draw from different disciplines — for me, it was journalism and economics — and have it make sense. Talking with him had me start thinking about my own experiences as an active learner and passion pursuer.

It takes courage to do what you’re passionate about and it takes patience to figure out what exactly that is. I see it like this: Do I want my diploma to be a meaningless and expensive piece of credibility as opposed to something that documented my development, both educationally and professionally?

Sure, Peter had to fit the right puzzle pieces together to make sure he had a job that he could live off of. We can’t just throw away that piece. But he cheated others’ expectations a bit. He cut and reshaped his puzzle pieces to make a different end-product — one that was completely unique to him and his career aspirations and learning goals. I’ve only just discovered this trick, but that’s okay, because learning doesn’t end with school. Learning is taking everything I’ve ever put through my brain, whether through a textbook, conversation or experience, and applying it to complete life’s 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

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