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Marisa Rodriguez

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Pasadena City College, CA Attending ArtCenter College
Art instructor & mentor

The community of artists that I belong to has always felt like home. I cherish the moments in which individuals who know relatively nothing about one another can connect so deeply through the simple act of artmaking. The elation, sorrow, excitement, fury, and awe that I receive—sometimes individually, sometimes all at once— from seeing someone’s work, is the intimate and vulnerable experience that ignited a passion in me for painting. It was both the experience of creating my work and consuming the work of others that propelled me towards a creative mentorship position when I was fifteen.

When I reached my sophomore year of high school, my school administrator asked if I might be interested in hosting a weekly extracurricular art program. Being that my school had a K-12 program, I was given the opportunity to work with younger ages as part of this program. Not quite knowing how I was going to approach my first day, I decided that I should begin by sharing my own artmaking process. What followed after a few months of mentoring is what changed the way I perceived the creative process. From kids who replayed a particular genre of music to get into the zone, to kids who used color to process their experiences, to older students (closer to my age) who began sharing with the class the vulnerable content of their work, there was no shortage of unique processes in our class, and yet, I found myself relating so deeply to all of them. What struck me as most surprising about this experience is that most students were not even aware of how they produced their work. Watching young students slip into such a deep trance of concentration through their preferred method was an enchanting and inspiring experience.

 

Instead of sharing my techniques at the sessions, I began to sit with the kids and learn how they used the different mediums to create art. I brought my supplies to the sessions every week, but we began receiving donations from parents who were also artists. One of the parents—whose spouse was an artist—brought her daughter, Sarah, to our sessions each week. In my own painting practice, I had always been tentative about approaching abstract art. But Sarah, who had an intrinsic desire and an instinctive ability to create abstract work, displayed her use of the acrylic and watercolor mediums through an incredible concoction of graceful lines, pastel colors, and thin, carefully drawn ink designs. When I came around to her table, I’d often find her pondering the different colors on the palette, deciding which one should come next. Her fearless approach to each of her pieces spoke to her constant sense of creativity and excitement for art. 

 

The extracurricular sessions continued for five years, even after my graduation, until the start of the pandemic. With each year, our administrator granted us a space to throw an end-of-the-year exhibition. Sarah, along with her classmates, displayed their work in the room that we had all shared our creative experiences. The position I held throughout that time revealed itself as a two way stream of inspiration and creative energy. When I think of my art community, I think of the students that came to my sessions. It is very evident to me now, how profoundly important it is that society foster the skills of younger artists, and how they must always be considered a valuable and influential part of the creative community. In the future, I wish to create more spaces like the one we had at my high school-one where everyone involved can feel safe enough to be vulnerable in their artmaking process. I firmly believe that these spaces are necessary for emerging artists to feel heard and for the content of their work to be affirmed.