By Lani Conway
Students from Santa Cruz County and Young Artists’ Studio are not considered your prototypical professional artist. Yet at the Santa Cruz Art League (SCAL), youth art meets the larger art world.
One of two shows currently running at the SCAL, the 54th annual High School Art Show, features over 500 acrylic paintings, graphite drawings, photographs, and ceramic pieces from high-school students throughout Santa Cruz County. The show runs until May 18.
Student work demonstrates a mature use of color paired with unique compositions and styles commonly seen in works done by more established and older artists, said Carol Jenied, chairperson for the exhibition committee.
“The art is very mature for being produced by sophomores, juniors, and seniors,” Jenied said. “Yet kids do work which expresses who they are, unlike adults who probably wish they could do that.”
Self-portraits and black-and-white photographs reflect the passing of time and the importance of self-reflection and simplicity, while more provocative themes of death and suffering provide a glimpse into the realities of being a teenager — all of which proves that students can be artists too.
Alyssa Sappington, assistant teacher at the Young Artists’ Studio in Santa Cruz, agrees wholeheartedly with these sentiments.
“I think the thing that students appreciate about showing their work is gaining satisfaction from seeing their artwork on the wall,” Sappington said. “To actually see their artwork framed, matted, and cared for is huge. For the students, it’s not just about the classes. It’s about telling yourself, ‘I can do this. I can be an artist.’”
In conjunction with the high school art show exhibited in the main gallery, works by 26 artists from Young Artists’ Studio are also featured in the SCAL lobby.
Young Artists’ Studio, part of the nonprofit organization Shared Adventures, brings together able and disabled students ages 12 to 18 in the same classroom to create, discuss, and critique art in a supportive environment.
According to Jenied, these kinds of classes and art shows function as necessary steps in the development of student artists and allow them to be taken seriously as legitimate artists. This includes learning the business side of art, which will permit students to put up their work for sale in the exhibition.
Yet student art shows such as the one at the SCAL do more than provide a professional environment for students to display their work.
“Art gives students the opportunity to build their confidence and to give them the idea that you can keep doing art for your well-being,” said Evelyn Markasky, a teacher at Young Artists’ Studio. “Art is important for learning other skills too. It gives students the ability to move on to the next step, whatever that may be.”
Such confidence is important for art students, especially for disabled art students, who are confronted with many social and physical challenges.
“Art allows students to be put in a situation where they can work together as equals,” said Kim Evans, director of Young Artists’ Studio. “You can’t tell just by looking at an art piece if it was created by an able or disabled body. These exhibitions give these students an opportunity to be accepted, celebrated, and not judged.”
Art does more than simply provide an equal platform for artists, Evans said.
“Art is a model,” she said, “for all people to be inspired by.”
_Both art shows are currently showing at the Santa Cruz Art League at 526 Broadway St. until May 18. Both shows are free. For more information, visit scal.org._