For the last several years I have been involved with the 34th District Congressional Student Art Competition. This year I was the Chair of the event that took place this last Saturday. What is such a thing, you wonder? Well it is a little known fact that each congressperson can select a piece of art created by a high school student in their district to be displayed for a year in DC. The selection process can be as simple or elaborate as each congressperson decides. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents the 34th district, chooses to really engage the students and holds a fantastic competition that results in a month long gallery show, celebration event, scholarships for the finalists and a trip to DC for the winner and their art teacher. It is really an incredible thing that she does for the community. The kids are so excited when they walk into the gallery and get to see their artwork framed and up on the wall. It is a very cool thing to witness.
This year there were 250 entries (which is more than they have ever had) and it was really amazing to see how bold some of these kids were with the messages in their art. There was some global warming, war, angst ridden self portraits (one was entitled ‘Despair’), the obesity epidemic, portraits of family members, autism, violence, the desire to break free from oppression, there was even an ode to Biggie (a personal favorite). No matter what the story was, each one had a tinge of teen angst that only a high school art student can convey. As the chair of the competition, my job was to help plan the event, judge the entries and write a letter for the printed program (upon reading the end product I realized that I got a tad excited with the exclamation points!!!!! Clearly, I was excited and I wanted everyone to know about it). The day of the event it was my job to smile a lot, be in a million photos and address the kids, their families and teachers at the awards presentation. There were about 400 people there and it had been a long time since I have dusted off the handy dandy speech skills…so I was a bit nervous.
How do I talk to high schoolers and not sound like I am an old lady who is trying to “relate”? As I sat down to write my remarks I started to think about me when I was 17 and how I was all angst ridden and feeling like the only people who understood my pain were Alanis Morissette, Jewel and the chick from the Cranberries. I immediately thought of my very own self-portrait that I did in 1997, entitled ‘All Alone on a Saturday Night’ (oh yes, I was deep). I actually remember that night quite clearly. I remember sitting alone (obvs), painting and listening to my Alanis/Jewel/Cranberries mixed tape. That night of tears and heart ache resulted in the creation of a self-portrait that hangs on my wall to this day:
I know, brilliant, right?? (Someone got a contemporary art book for Christmas.) Clearly, it is no secret why I did not become a painter, but I keep this on my wall because it reminds me of so many things. Things that I hold dear to my heart, lessons learned, the abundant emotion that 17 year-old me felt and the artistic spirit that has followed me for all these years. It occurred to me at that moment that I knew exactly what to share in my remarks: That art played a big role in my life when I was in high school and that it helped me get through some hard times. That it is so important to hold on to that creative spirit and passion, no matter where life takes you because it will always be useful.
Thankfully, the message was well received and I managed to bust a speech out just like the old days. It was a really inspiring morning. Many of the kids asked to take a picture with them next to their art...I was totally the cool kid in school! I giggled as I watched all these awkward kids with their piercings and their black nail polish and their crazy pants hair (seriously I saw more than one rat-tail. Dear hipster high school kids: please do not bring the rat-tail back. It is not ok. Trust me, it’s a bad idea. You will regret it. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.) and watching them with their families who were so very proud really warmed my heart. I left feeling really grateful for the angst ridden moments of my teen years, because they shaped me into who I am today and set the stage for me to make some pretty rockin art. You…You…You oughta know…