Monet of the 21st Century, a reflection by Conrad Jeong

Students at the School of Creative Studies donated a generous portion of their spring breaks to participate in the Song of Myself LTP camp. On the first day of the program, I watched 6th and 7th grade students go around in a circle talking about their future career goals to be artists, filmmakers, engineers, and even voice actors. I witnessed middle school kids power through lines of Walt Whitman’s incredibly complex epic poem with more profound literary analysis and personal empathy than my fellow Duke students did in a poetry class I took last year.

After taking a portrait photograph of themselves at the Eno River State Park, the students creatively integrated into it the lines of the Song of Myself poem provided to them, using various mediums of artistic expression. The end goal was to produce what would flow like a graphic novel of Whitman’s epic poem. And although every single student produced stellar work, these two stuck out the most to me:

As an artist, I immediately noticed that these two examples of photography-based collage art feature hints of modernism, expressionism, and even a bit of surrealism. Their August Sander style portrait photographs immediately provide immense depth and perspective into their overall work. I can’t help but notice the potential commentary of Shamar when he uses the words “truth” and “storytellers” to cover his eyes. I am struck by Tobiah’s depiction of a headless man with cameras sprouting from them, as well as her impressionist technique—in a very Claude Monet like fashion—of using words from the poem to visually structure her face.

My point is, with a gallery full of these, you are sure to attract a crowd of pretentious art critics who would endlessly discuss the artistic brilliance of these pieces.

As a teacher, I reflect on the creative processes and technical merit behind these works. These students dedicated not only large portions of time, but they dedicated portions of time most other kids their age would have spent playing video games. They worked slowly and carefully, investing tremendous amounts of effort and energy into creating finalized products they truly cared about. And looking at their finished projects, we can see that on one hand, this was an enjoyable way to allow students to spend their free time expressing their creative spirit. On the other hand, however, I cannot help but feel that these students epitomize the coming generation of artists, the newest wave of August Sanders and Claude Monets.

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