It’s as if you were peering into a photograph of someone squinting.
You note the wrinkles between the eyes and on top of the nose. You glimpse at the hairs on the eyebrows, how they brush out imperfectly.
The finely wrought pastel and colored-pencil drawing highlights various tones and colors, reinforcing what clearly is the subject’s vexation.
In a sense, Jemielee Perez, a senior at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, turned a friend’s struggles into art.
Titled Frustration, the drawing hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of 88 works by artists from New York City’s public schools of art chosen for display in the museum’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education. It is part of the 13th anniversary of P.S. Art, an annual exhibition of artists from the city’s public schools.
Perez said Frustration was inspired by a close friend who had gone through a lot of struggles and tough transitions in her life, but nonetheless managed to keep a smile. The friend said although people usually saw that sunnier side, only Perez and a couple of other friends knew of her other trait, which she was reluctant to show. Perez said did not expect to have her work chosen for inclusion in P.S. Art, but said it has been amazing to actually see it at the Met.
“I was always really shy and scared to submit any of my work, because I didn’t want to be rejected,” she said. “But now it’s just so surreal, and it really didn’t hit me until I saw it up there.”
As dynamic as Frustration is, you wouldn’t expect to find anything less at P.S. Art. The program’s coordinator of visual arts at the city Department of Education, Karen Rosner, said walking through the exhibit is the same experience as walking through a museum filled with pieces made by renowned artists.
“Although these kids are in pre-K all the way to high school,” she said. “We receive a lot of well-made portraits, still-lifes, full landscapes and even sculptures.”
This is the eighth year that the exhibit has been held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For this show, 900 students submitted work. A panel of arts specialists from the Department of Education and Studio in a School, which partners with artists, the DOE and others to foster the creative development of city youth, tapered those entries down to 370 semifinalists.
A panel of judges consisting of distinguished administrators from the city’s art community as well as staff members from the museum then chooses the final pieces that will go on display.
The entire selection process takes about a year, Rosner said. For the first time this year, in addition to the museum exhibit, some of the students’ artwork was also projected on outdoor digital screens in Times Square. They rotated on view over the course of several days.
Students talked about their pieces as the art was being projected. the Met’s chairman of education, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, said.
She was amazed at how confidently the kids spoke in front of so many people in the middle of a place like Times Square. “The first student to speak was in elementary school,” she said. “Since we were in the middle of noisy Times Square, I wanted to make sure she would be heard, so I grabbed her and said ‘make sure you’re loud.’ And she turned to me and said ‘and proud?’”
Jackson-Dumont began working for the museum last year around the time that P.S. Art exhibition was opening up. On the first day, there were so many people trying to photograph the kids that it seemed like a paparazzi moment, she said.
“Young people at that age aren’t generally used to that attention,” she said. “Their reaction was kind of like ‘wow, I actually am amazing!’”
This year, every artist was given a button that read ‘I’m an artist.’ Jackson-Dumont said it was a way to get people to approach the kids and ask them about their work, in order to make them feel proud about their achievements.
According to Rosner, the criteria used to select the final artworks have performance indicators. Teachers are encouraged to use those criteria to judge if the students’ work meets the indicators and are on grade level.
“You might get a work of art that looks fabulous for a second-grader, but it was done by a fifth-grader,” Rosner said. “We don’t want that; we want something age-appropriate.”
Jackson-Dumont said the exhibition’s purpose is to highlight the importance of art education in creating critical thinkers and well-rounded minds.
”This is not only about making a pretty painting,” she said. “It’s about building confidence in kids, so that they can have that kind of courage to stand up and speak in front of millions of people in the heart of Times Square.”