Advanced Studio: Artistic Exploration for Lauren Zhang '22

Art is a "place where you can let go, be creative, and be yourself," said Lauren Zhang '22.

Art is a "place where you can let go, be creative, and be yourself," said Lauren Zhang '22. Zhang is one of five students in Advanced Studio, a class in which students develop an Advanced Placement portfolio in visual art for submission in May. The class offers motivated student-artists the freedom and latitude to explore different media of art and hone their creativity. For Zhang, who does a lot of work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, art serves as a release for her to be more creative and free.

Zhang has been visiting museums since a young age, and she still draws inspiration from the paintings she saw as a child; impressionist painter Claude Monet and post-impressionist painter Vincet Van Gogh serve as two main sources of inspiration for her oil paintings. She admires their ability to capture a realistic scene in an abstract manner. "Up close, it doesn't really seem as close of a match with the scene they were supposed to draw, but if you take a few steps back, they were able to emulate that scene really well," Zhang commented. She admires and seeks to emulate their ability to balance specificity with abstraction through a dynamic combination of finer details and thicker lines.

During Advanced Studio class time, Zhang spends time in a studio in the Gruss Center for Art and Design (GCAD). Students in the class each have a desk with their own materials, and spend class time working on the portfolio in an open studio setting, giving students free reign to explore and develop their ideas, with needed guidance offered by Visual Arts Teacher Chloe Kalna. Zhang sometimes spends additional time outside of class working on her portfolio when GCAD is open.

Her portfolio contains artwork inspired by many aspects of her life, including her childhood, dance, her daily life, and her experience from preparing for art competitions. She works with mainly watercolor, but also includes various oil paintings in her portfolio.

Zhang's ballet experience serves as a source of inspiration. She began dancing at the age of three and different elements of dance have been central to her portfolio. She paints ballet dancers in her portfolio mainly using black ink and watercolor but adds "a contemporary element" for structure: metallic paint. In addition to her paintings of ballet dancers, she also paints landscapes with oils to add variety to her portfolio. Daily life has also influenced her creative process. Instead of stemming from deliberate brainstorming sessions, her ideas often spring from going about her daily life. Zhang developed the central idea of one of her paintings during physics class.

Her painting process begins with sketching an idea while it is still in mind, starting with pencil and then moving to black ink, one of her preferred artistic media. After she finishes drawing, she revises with a cup of water, a paintbrush, and some paint. She fixes edges, making sure certain parts are intentionally defined. She also makes sure the parts she wants to be a bit more abstract are slightly blurred, going over them with water and diluting the color.

Aside from preparing for the Advanced Placement exam, students in the class often choose the best pieces within their portfolios to submit to various art competitions. Zhang has been submitting to competitions since middle school but mainly focuses on submitting to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She has won several Golden Keys, distinctions that allows the submission to be judged nationally by the final panel, and her art has been featured in galleries in California and Shanghai. Such competitions have helped Zhang develop her distinct artistic style, as knowing that a judge will evaluate her works prompts her to consider her choices carefully when painting. "It makes you go in with an open mind—you start to think about it from different perspectives. It makes me think about the impact of a certain stroke or how it could be perceived," Zhang commented.

Acknowledging the subjectivity of art, Zhang observes that many think that it is difficult to establish objective criteria for what constitutes good and bad art. She believes that one of the most rewarding things about art is developing her taste—"Doing art over the years has taught me how to evaluate it…figuring that out for myself and having my own judgement on the pieces that I've done over the years has been really helpful." One challenge she has faced with her portfolio is balancing unity with variety. She wants her portfolio to feel cohesive, following the same general themes while still making each piece feel individual and unique.

Having experienced the Advanced Studio class and how it provides artists with free-reign over exploring their artistic style, Zhang provides meaningful advice towards aspiring visual artists: "Don't overdo it...beginning artists tend to overthink it...but sometimes you just need to step back and critique it because I think self-feedback is so important."


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