For high school art students, it’s often a struggle to find a style that they can run with. Monica Gong, an 18-year old high school student from Castro Valley, California, is lucky to have settled into her own style. But like most of her peers, she’s still unsure of what kind of career path she may follow. We talked to Monica to discuss the struggles of evolving as an artist, sharing deeply personal work, discussing art in a school setting, and more. Read our interview below.
How would you describe your style of artwork? Or are you still trying to find your style?
My art is an extension of me, so I would describe my style of work the same way I would describe myself: broken, tired, anxious, sarcastic and barely holding it together. My output of work as a whole is cohesive in a way that is disconnected; I think this is very representative of me and my life. This style is fairly new and kind of subtle— I started developing it about nine months ago when I began to spend most of my time making art.
How did it feel to settle into a style that’s so representative of yourself?
The openness in my work both excites and terrifies me. My style isn’t something I developed consciously; it grew after a few months of therapy when I realized that creating art helped me deal with my emotions and trauma better than talking about them. The feelings and thoughts surrounding my personal life poured into my work almost against my will. I think I am so real and vulnerable when I’m creating because I’m usually very closed off in real life. I guess it allows me to tell people how I feel without actually having to tell them how I feel. It can be difficult to accept when someone who I consider myself close to doesn’t understand my work because of how representative it is of me. Surprisingly, this has been pretty rare so far – unless my friends and family are lying to me [laughs]. It’s comforting to know that other people can relate to my work, whether it be visually, emotionally, or both
Since it is so personal to you, was it tough to start sharing your artwork online?
No, not really. I don’t really mind sharing my work with strangers online because they don’t know me. I also don’t have to see them face-to-face which helps. It’s much harder to share my work with people that know me well because their opinions are important to me and they know the specifics of my life.
When did you start to take art more seriously? And do you plan to pursue a career in art?
About a year ago. I took a few drawing and painting classes growing up, and [enrolled in] my first studio art class my sophomore year of high school. After my junior year, my teacher suggested I take a pre-college course at a local art university which really solidified my decision to pursue art as a career. At the beginning of my senior year, I applied and was accepted to a few art schools. I’ll be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall for my undergraduate degree which is really exciting. I’m very new to the art world and still young; there are a lot of career options I would love to explore, but I know I want to work in an art-related field. At this point, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Ultimately though, I would love to travel and sell my work.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of creating / sharing artwork so far?
Being free to express myself alongside a community of people like me. There are a lot of kids around my age passionately making work that is not only visually appealing, but also emotionally and conceptually driven online. This is really exciting and comforting, and it makes me feel less alone, kind of like we’re all in this together. Seeing others create amazing art pushes me to make better work too. I think the online artistic community is great because we are free to be supportive and critical— of ourselves and others. It is a lot different than the artistic community at school where conversations surrounding art are filtered and more restricted. I think I’ve long outgrown that.
Do you think there’s an opportunity for more open conversations about art at school? Or do you feel that the nature of a school setting makes discussing art less enjoyable?
I just don’t think it’s possible to have an open and in-depth discussion about art at school. Class time is limited, so discussions are short and surface-level; most of class is reserved for making art. And it’s high school— kids have other interests. Not everyone considers making or discussing art that important. Besides this, a lot of students – especially outside of art class – have bought into the idea that “all art is good” which is really frustrating for me. I mean, everyone makes at least some bad stuff, but kids at school don’t even have an opinion of what is good or bad. Even if they do, they can’t voice it. That’s kind of why art class at school, and discussions with other students about art can be boring for me.
What goals do you have for yourself as an artist down the line?
I’m currently trying to put out prints and a website, because, unfortunately, I do need to make money to survive. I figured I should just put myself out there and learn from all the stupid mistakes I will inevitably make throughout this process when I’m young. Above anything else, I just want to create alongside other young people who love art. More specifically, I want to keep creating better and better things, exploring different mediums and growing both as an artist and as a person. Of course, I want to get my undergraduate degree, but after that, who knows? I’ve thought about getting a master’s, applying for residencies, and trying to get into galleries/museums, but that’s just so far from now—I’m going to be a completely different person when I have to make that decision.