My art and me

Elizabeth+Cheng+poses+with+crayons%2C+showing+her+love+for+art.+

Tanika Anbu

Elizabeth Cheng poses with crayons, showing her love for art.

Elizabeth Cheng

In the middle of the summer before my senior year, I laid in bed, the same moving frames playing over and over again in my mind. I saw myself running, panting, falling. Flat on the ground, completely expressionless.
The next day, I wandered around the neighborhood to film the video that I had envisioned. I had finished my homework for ‘Idea Camp’: a casual term for a two-week segment of an art camp focused on creativity.
After sessions of rigorous review with my art teacher, Fang Lao Shi, known to his students as FLS and famous in our Chinese community for his college-level teaching, that video will go into my art portfolio, ready to be analyzed by admissions officers.
Every weekend, I spend my afternoons and nights working in his art studio, undergoing the intensive process of trying conceptualizing ideas while making up for years of missing technical practice.
I once dreaded the silence of sitting for hours, copying an image with precise detail. What was the point of art, I wondered, when I could simply take a photo?
The summer following my freshman year, I attended my first summer camp with FLS. The long hours on Zoom were difficult — three hours of homework on top of six hours of class. But I realized that art is not merely about rendering, realism or making something look pretty. Its purpose was to convey an emotion or complex idea through imagery.
While many of my early pieces were ultimately unsuccessful, they were vital stepping stones to practice my ideation process — how to capture an abstract concept and revitalize it through art.
But as I began to spend more and more time in the studio, a new internal conflict arose.
Am I putting nearly 20 hours a week into this process for my personal growth or simply for the prestige that comes with being accepted into a top-tier institution?
I am planning my time around colleges’ expectations for a portfolio. But even if all of my work contributed absolutely nothing to my application, I would be stepping away from this process having found an outlet through which I can both challenge myself and find comfort in my expression.
So, why not just take a photo?
For me, art is not about a finished product. It’s a process of ideation, of expressing a specific feeling at a certain point in time. No matter the external factors — teachers with whom I may not always agree with, new innovations that threaten human-made art and pending college decision results — I will always treasure that process.