Rachael L. Forbes is aware of the stereotype.
“For many, art is a hopeless field, filled with hipsters in the streets of a big city, hoping to make a few bucks to pay rent,” she says.
Yet, Rachael, a junior at Eastern Center for Arts and Technology in Willow Grove, has other plans for her life, and her art.
“I want to make a living off of doing something I love. Sure, I want to live in a city, and sure, I may like big scarfs and whimsical trinkets, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let my passion die,” she says.
Forbes is not alone. For the many like her participating in our Annual High School Student Art Exhibit in honor of Youth Art Month — William Tennent, Abington, Hatboro-Horsham, Upper Moreland, and Wissahickon high schools are additional exhibitors — such creativity and self-expression give meaning to their lives and allow them to more intimately engage with the world.
“For me, art is my way of putting out my daydreams and taking things that I am unable to say and show people without having to explain myself. It gives me the ability to let go,” says Corrin Delano, a senior at William Tennent High School in Warminster.
Erik Smale, also a student at Eastern Center for Arts and Technology, finds drawing and taking photographs to be instant mood boosters. He appreciates the ability to capture perspectives apart from what others typically see behind the lens of his camera, and when illustrating, enjoys the texture of using graphite pencils.
“If I’m ever feeling down or upset, I always look to art to make me feel better,” says Erik.
To participate in the art center’s exhibit is not only a chance to show his work but to receive feedback — “good or bad,” he says — to help him grow as an artist.
That motivation is one of the reasons Kathy Davis, the founder of the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts, is especially excited about the show. A former art teacher, she admits to having vivid memories of her own days as an art student in high school.
“As a young person who loved art but lacked confidence, I was hungry for direction and encouragement,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I had enough determination and faith in myself to commit to making a career in the arts a reality. Giving these students the opportunity to show their work can help give them the confidence they need to make art a rewarding focus in their lives.”
The student art show supports many of the pillars upon which Youth Art Month, an initiative of The Council for Art Education, was built. The program as a whole recognizes the value of a visual arts education for all children, encourages quality art education in schools, and promotes art material safety. Through exhibits, workshops and other creative ventures planned across the country during March, YAM celebrates the intrinsic value of art to improve the quality of life for all.
“It elevates us, enriches us, and inspires us to see things in a new way,” says Davis, who once taught art at her alma mater, Hatboro-Horsham High School.
Now the chief visionary officer of Kathy Davis Studios, a social expression and lifestyle brand, she finds in her work plenty of opportunity to tap into what a joyful and affirming process creating can be.
It’s an outlet that’s especially rewarding for students who may feel less capable in other areas.
“I’ve never been the athlete, the brainiac, or the actor. A pencil has always been in my hand, creating something other than just words or numbers on a page,” says Rachael.
Yet any art education is about so much more than skill and technique, notes Alex Pinguli, an art teacher at Upper Moreland High School, who has selected works from several students to be featured in the exhibit.
“It’s a great vehicle for self-expression and a great articulation of your voice but there are also real-life applications on so many levels,” he says. “Seeing different perspectives, persevering through challenges — I’ve seen time and again how thinking about visual problems in different ways helps with other areas of life.”
Wendy Collins, an art teacher at William Tennent, agrees that students who have access to art experience learning differently.
“They feel more comfortable exploring ideas,” she says. “Through exploration, practice, failure, collaboration and reflection, students make connections to their work, the school and the world around them.”
The March exhibit will span a range of mediums from graphite pencil sketches and photographs to acrylic paintings and reduction prints. Self-portraits, abstract illustrations, mixed media works and more will all be featured.
“A core belief of our arts center is that ‘Art makes a difference,’ ” says Davis, underscoring the value of the exhibit. “We hope our March show helps make a positive difference in the lives of our young artists.”
The Annual High School Student Exhibit opens Friday, March 18, with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. and runs through April 20. Regular gallery hours are Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Scatter Joy Center for the Arts is located at 305 Horsham Road, Horsham, Pa. Information: 215- 672-3140.