a triptych of artwork by Gage Brown
Shown and Told
Senior studio art major reflects on creating personal art during COVID-19 pandemic
Thursday, May 14, 2020

There is potential for collective change at any hour, but this moment especially, charged with uncertainty, feels crucial. In the past weeks I’ve spent preparing for this year’s senior art exhibition, Show & Tell, I’ve also felt incredible urgency to ramp up my advocacy for progressive change, justice, and liberation taking place in different forms around the globe—and that if I don’t, I’ll have missed the opportunity of a lifetime to mold a better collective future. 

Maybe it’s my impulsive codependency or radical nature, but there is mounting potential toward some new way that I feel a responsibility to take part in.

Somehow though, developing my very personal artwork for Show & Tell has felt almost at odds with my desire to join this movement. The works I’ve created for the senior show are intimate, and specific to my unique experience in a way that my past artwork evaded. In the past, I would create work always keeping in mind the message it would send. This self-awareness became obsessive and morphed into self-centeredness, in the sense that I convinced myself I could deliver to viewers exactly what they wanted and needed to see. I now recognize the fault in this, and know that giving too much credence to what lay outside myself prevents me from tending what needs attention within myself. My recent works sprung from my decision to stop attaching my self worth as an artist to public perceptions of my art. Exhibited in Show & Tell, these recent pieces are a result of that shift from forced universality to confidence in the value of my story. 

Such a shift contributed to my growth as an artist, but I find myself now struggling to quell the feeling that my personal work isn’t enough. The feeling is heightened by the urgency of this moment and the magnitude of people in need of support right now, in addition to the pressure I’ve assigned to the senior show as my grand debut. My work has allowed me to heal my trauma, and I know it can provide solace to those whose experience bears semblance to mine. But is that enough? Could I be speaking to more prevalent issues in the wake of this global state of crisis? 

Leading up to the show, the anxious energy within me continued to mount with the potential energy swelling around me, because I began to doubt that my story is relatively important to tell. The fact that I’m now questioning my artistic worth despite spending months physically and emotionally poring over the most vulnerable work I’ve ever created confronts me with a choice: I can submit to my anxiety and believe that this work is inadequate, or I can trust that making honest artwork is a revolutionary act in itself, and my ability to affect lasting change includes doing work about me.

I didn’t envision feeling this way leading up to the exhibition—before the coronavirus crisis, I was steadfast in my conviction that my most recent work held value. The current state of the world has tested my conviction, but I am trying to remember that my story is never unimportant. I think successful art is what it needs to be without permission, even from the artist. Here’s to trusting that Show & Tell will be a success.


Senior Art Exhibit - Show & Tell collage promo

Experience Show & Tell, the virtual reality exhibition for 2020 senior art students, at www.showandtell.show

Featuring works in painting, sculpture, photography, animation, and mixed media, Show & Tell marks the culmination of 11 studio art majors’ undergraduate studies at Trinity University. By showing their work and telling their unique stories in their own artistic voices, the artists hope to initiate a meaningful dialogue with viewers. As Trinity’s first-ever virtual reality senior art exhibition, artwork was photographed and displayed in a VR space modeled after the Michael and Noémi Neidorff Art Gallery, and was opened to online viewers on April 30.

Gage Brown '20 majored in studio art at Trinity University.

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