Imagine the first time you exhibit your artwork or publish your writing, and it’s not on the refrigerator, but at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For hundreds of New York City kids, that’s just what happened. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is the country’s longest-running program to highlight the achievements of talented teens. In 2016, thousands of kids in grades 7-12 from New York city schools submitted their art and writing to a panel of experts that winnowed some 13,000 entries down to about 600 works deemed worthy of the highest recognition – the Gold Key Award.
Regional exhibitions of winners, from the over 320,000 nationwide entrants, take place in schools and public buildings all over the country. And all the students selected are, justifiably, proud. But young artists from more than 300 schools in the five boroughs were chosen for New York’s regional show, which was held at the largest art museum in the Western hemisphere. The Met proudly hosted this year’s exhibition of art and writing by some of the city’s brightest and most talented.
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, along with Parson’s School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the Met worked together to fill the walls of the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education with paintings and photographs, video and multimedia works, along with interactive screens that presented stories, poems, cartoons, plays and essays.
There were 260 judges, professionals in the fields of art and literature, who selected works. They considered each carefully, aware of the history and the weight of the honor they bestowed. This is no minor talent competition; previous winners include artists Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, and Cy Twombly; and writers Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, Truman Capote, Stephen King and Lena Dunham.
Images of the world we live in were as diverse as the kids who created them, as were depictions of the interior life of these artists. There were local street scenes shot in black and white by photographers with classical eyes, stunning landscapes of distant mountains, pictures of pets and the farthest reaches of space, and expressive self-portraits painted with dreamy romanticism or unflinching realism. But, more than anything else, these works by artists early in their journey express curiosity, exploration, passion and discovery. In them, one sensed visions inspired by artists like Susan Rothenberg, Diane Arbus, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Pixar and George Lucas. There were intensely felt, moving works of fiction, poetry and prose, and scholarly essays on matters important not just to teens, but to all of us.
Though the exhibition at the Met has ended, all the Gold Key award winners from across the country were honored on June 2 in a ceremony at Carnegie Hall, hosted by filmmaker Ken Burns. These hard-working prodigies have long, fruitful roads ahead of them. The only pity is that we can’t fast-forward to see the great work they’ll be producing in 10 or 20 years.