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Portrait of the artist as a young woman, inspired by a young man

art by Nicholas Osella, text by Cecile mcwilliams

Children are remarkably curious. Mundane activities such as scribbling on a piece of paper, listening to a musical instrument, or looking at an old photo of a family member reveal unfamiliar worlds, replete with opportunity and excitement. This uncertainty often prompts creativity, which is a human instinct, an impulse that allows us to process and express our thoughts. But as a flood of distractions and obligations enter our lives, this impulse gets drowned out; we too often dismiss it as superfluous. Preoccupied with meaningless distractions, we no longer yearn to explore the unfamiliar. Activities that delighted us as children seem less intriguing. Our curiosity is smothered by the modern world’s noisy interference.

As a child, my eagerness to explore the mysteries around me manifested itself in the carefree pursuit of art. The environment I grew up in encouraged me to indulge in creativity. Attending Montessori school spared me from the numbing impact of traditional learning and encouraged me to explore and develop creative skills that will always prove useful to me. Nonetheless, over time, obligations such as busywork have decreased my freetime and exhausted my artistic curiosity. Admittedly, when I do have freetime, distractions such as my phone too easily become an appealing option. Who can resist mindless scrolling? I’ve always considered myself an “artsy” person, but creativity has become less and less of a priority as I’ve gotten older. Sure, in a rare moment of creative inspiration, I might draw a still life or sketch a photo. But now, a focus on perfectionism ultimately prevails. I will likely practice a drawing technique in the monotonous pursuit of textbook improvement, rather than personal exploration. I tend to put pressure on my performance, making art seem more intimidating and less enjoyable.

But a recent encounter inspired me to reexamine this negative shift in artistic temperament. I walked into My art class one afternoon to find a stranger sitting at a table that was brimming with visually alluring artwork-- screen printed clothing that reminded me of Keith Haring’s work and painted blocks which featured simple lines and shapes. What particularly seized my attention were the collages. They included cut-out magazine pictures of some of my favorite musicians-- Frank Ocean, SZA, and Daniel Caesar-- all adorned with shadows and quotes. The artist was Nick Osella, a former student of My teacher’s. Explaining his artistic process, he acknowledged the banality of attending art class every day and, with tedious discipline, filling a sketchbook. This practice, he admitted, has allowed him to cultivate an original style. His ability to blend technique and innovation through persistent effort was nothing short of an epiphany to me.

Osella’s work reminded me that stress should never drown out creativity. Although unconventional, his style appeals in a unique way-- primarily because it is raw, subjective, and profound. It is obvious that hard work propelled each piece. But so did instinct. In fact, skill alone is not necessary for creativity-- talent is often overrated. Rather, it is the underlying idea or intention that makes an art piece magnetic. So, after observing Osella’s work, I decided not only to revive my own sense of creativity, but to do so with a liberated-- even childlike-- mentality. In other words, I learned that Osella trusted his intuition. I now intend to do the same.