The exhibition boasts a tall order with the name “Young Masters,” but those two adjectives prove perfectly apropos. Peruse the concourse of the Dallas Museum of Art this month and 53 pieces of artistic almost majesty pop off the high ceiling walls, begging passerby to take pause. Just who is or are the creative mind(s) to credit for the likes of the electric blues in “June Infestation” or the kinetic feats in “The Dimensions of Cards?” A select group of high school students from twelve Dallas-area high schools are the answer.
“We believe creativity is the foundation for great art, great science, great literature and great discovery,” says Edith O’Donnell who founded the Advanced Placement (AP) Arts program in 1994 that ultimately made possible this exhibition. In the 18-year history of the program, more than 10,000 arts and music students have benefited from the O’Donnell Foundation’s AP Fine Arts Incentive Programs. Last year, graduating seniors earned over $16.8 million in scholarships.
On a Tuesday after school in February, a bench of four at-first-timid high schoolers seated inconspicuously in front of the exhibition wall provided a glimpse of insight into the dream-making story behind the fourteenth year of the Young Masters Exhibition. Michelle Yi of Coppell High School, Sylvan Perlmutter of Pearce High School sat with John Burnett and Masie O’Brien both of Booker T. Washington High School. All four have works on display this year and while not bragging of their merit, they are certainly teeming with elation and somewhat disbelief that their creative efforts are included in an exhibition at an internationally renown fine art museum.
“This all just confirms that what I’m passionate about is the right thing for me to pursuit,” says senior Yi of being selected for the show.
The O’Donnell Foundation’s Creating Schools of Excellence in Fine Arts Incentive Program is mostly to credit for allowing this group of almost-savant level, young talent to have the creative freedom to express themselves through Advanced Placement Studio Art, Art History and Music Theory. Works selected for the show were chosen across those three class platforms.
“Being chosen serves as a source of lifelong accomplishment to these students,” notes O’Donnell.
The pool of talent has yielded a diverse array of works from essays about art pieces currently housed in the Dallas Museum of Art, original four-minute musical compositions and 2-dimensional as well as 3-dimensional works of sculpture, painting, photography and digital submissions. A panel of respected judges for each discipline reviewed a total of 651 works submitted from participating students and selected the 53 pieces included in this year’s exhibition.
For these students, this project wasn’t about getting a grade or pleasing it teacher: this is about something much bigger and serves as a microcosm of their future dreams. Burnett, a senior who has already gotten word he’ll be attending the prestigious Oberland Conservatory next fall, says that creating his four-minute, nine-page masterpiece (Sisyphean Shade) for flute clarinet and violin confirmed that this is what he wants to do with his life. Perlmutter, a sophomore and author of “Battle of Arab Horsemen Around a Standard,” says that ever since a teacher edited one of his pieces in seventh grade, he’s known writing is what he loves.
“I just can feel it in my bones,” he says.
Though all of the artists are young in age, their dreams span beyond what many much older have already achieved. Given their candid conversations about being synthe-kinetic and appreciation for artists ranging from Francisco Goya to Yuko Shimizu, they are more than convincing.
“This is all happening,” says O’Brien. “We know that it’s all just starting for us.”
— LAURA NOBLE
The exhibition runs through April 8, 2012 in the Concourse Gallery of the Dallas Museum of Art and is free to the public with normal admission to the museum.