Have you ever looked at a work of art and got lost in it? Or better yet, have you ever felt like you found a part of yourself in a work of art?
To be completely honest, I am by no means an art lover. In my travels I’ve stood in museums in front of some of the world’s greatest masterpieces and felt nothing, then took a few steps and felt like I was collapse on a bench and stare at another room for hours.
While there are downsides to not being educated in “high art”, the only upside is that it tends to lead to unassuming admiration. It is not the name or monetary value of a painting; it is the emotion it can evoke that attracts my appreciation.
That doesn’t equate to not knowing the difference between the mastery that produced pieces at the Louvre and some of the fantastic student artwork that was on display for a few months as part of the Mois de l’Art exhibition. Powhatan County Public School Youth Art. What that means, at least to me, is to be open to the beauty and emotion that can be found in artists of all levels to some degree.
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So when Powhatan High School art teacher Stephanie Wirt posted about her AP art students’ final exhibit at the War Memorial Cultural Arts and Community Center this month, it seemed intriguing.
The works of 10 students produced over the past school year were on display in the Great Hall: Owen Franklin, Meagan Lively, Peyton Baker, Belle Koelzer, Traci Vaughan, Lindsay Freeman, Miranda Dearbeck, Logan Anthony, Olivia Seaver and Hayden Beasley. Student Preston Pullin was a special guest performer in the show.
Each student’s exhibit represented a “sustained investigation of a chosen concept or idea,” Wirt told me. Some of the concepts represented there were emotion through portraits, endangered animals, emotional and mental illnesses, and fashion. It doesn’t matter which media you choose, because “as long as you see the unifying concept, it’s a series”.
“That’s what we focus on – how many ways you can vary an idea,” Wirt said. “It comes to the media, it comes to the perspective. There are quite a few kids who have spent over half a year trying out different media to finally find the one that really clicked.
“They found their style in the process, and I want to jump up and down. I’m excited because that’s when they find their greatest success. What is difficult is to make the children experiment, because they are afraid of failing,” she added.
Wandering around and appreciating the art on my own while reading artist statements to get some context was enjoyable. The breadth and skill demonstrated by the students and the wide variety and quality produced by such a small group was wonderful to explore. Kudos to teachers of all disciplines who find ways to showcase their students’ talents to the community.
What was even more illuminating was talking to some students about their work portfolios and how they had progressed in creating them.
Owen Franklin, a senior PHS, went with a subject I never would have imagined – Victorian and Edwardian medicine, drawn to the era being an era with significant medical advances and highly questionable practices. He explained how his focus shifted to the impact of the art of the time on our understanding of medicine of the time. He also touched on aspects of that time that reflect today’s issues, such as the pandemic, war, the opioid crisis, debates over personal responsibility, and distrust of medicine.
I enjoyed how Owen talked about the different media he tried on this project and the setbacks he faced when he completely hated a piece he had completed and felt forced to try again.
Senior colleague Meagan Lively focused on the physical and emotional effects of endangered species. She also told me about her struggles throughout the school year to find a medium that worked for what she wanted to accomplish. She eventually came to pen and ink, finding it worked best with the detail she wanted to capture the right emotion for each piece.
“It definitely affected me a bit just because people keep chasing them. I just wanted to show the pain they go through and show it to people who look at my works,” she said.
As I said earlier, I’m not an art lover. But I was impressed by the talents and the depth of the young artists. Whether it was the work of a student trying to break the stigma of ADHD or that of a student wanting to create “moments in time that are nothing but pure joy”, the experience was uncomfortable at times. , sad, joyful and contemplative, but always impactful. .