Senior instills excitement for art in others
Growing up, studio fine art senior Mattie Thompson of Savannah was never one to color inside the lines. Instead, she spent most of her life not believing in her art ability until her sophomore year of high school. She took a class in painting in order to graduate and fell in love with it.
Thompson’s creation “Milly Squared” was on display at the Leland Gallery in November as part of Georgia College & State University’s Art Department exhibit, “Ephemera.” The exhibit celebrated senior art students and their capstone projects.
Milly Squared is comprised of two community paint-grid projects, showcasing two Milledgeville icons—famed American author Flannery O’Connor, ’45 and Country Music Artist Logan Crosby, who Thompson has known since their days attending John Milledge Academy.
Thompson chose this project to become more comfortable working with larger audiences. She wanted to find a way to inspire creativity in adults and focus on the community.
Each painting has 96 different squares, which means several individuals came together during a community event to paint the 3-inch by 3-inch squares. She wanted the result of the two Milledgeville icons to be a surprise, unveiled for the first time at the Ephemera exhibit.
“For people who normally don’t create art, I think it’s important to get them to try doing something outside their comfort zone,” Thompson said. “Then, they see the final piece that looks amazing. Maybe they think this is something they’d like to do more of. They can step back and say, ‘I helped make this—I’m a piece of this puzzle.’”
“I've seen a lot of kids bring their parents to my tables, and they end up painting together,” she said. “The family bonding was really special to see.”
Some senior citizens stopped by Thompson’s project table and said, “I used to love painting, but I haven't picked up a paintbrush in 30 years.” Then, they tried it and loved it again.
“Painting is very therapeutic,” Thompson said. “To be able to create something—there’s no other feeling like it to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is something that was in my brain, and now it’s real.’ That’s the coolest thing ever.”
She credits Matthew Forrest, interim chair and associate professor of art and printmaking, as well as William “Bill” Fisher, professor of art, with being “extremely helpful” with Milly Squared.
“Matt always recognized my talent,” she said. “One day in class he said, ‘You're smart and talented beyond belief, but you just don't push yourself enough.’”
This was the first time anyone said this to Thompson regarding her art ability. Forrest also helps Thompson solve problems and teaches her leadership skills.
Fisher taught Thompson how to be patient with others when explaining concepts. Both professors showed Thompson how to bridge the gap of art and teaching.
“I really admire Bill—he’s really passionate about his work,” she said. “I have printmaking with him. It's not something I'm great at, but every day he takes baby steps with me.”
Thompson learned a lot as a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority. It taught her how to be a team player, while honing her art and leadership skills. When she was on the Art Committee for Rush Week, Thompson did several creative art projects for the sorority, like painting banners, signs and decorations.
“I learned how to work in a group setting with art,” Thompson said. “It's one thing to paint something on my own and another thing to instruct 12 girls sitting in someone's living room, all working on the same poster. This validated that my art can be appreciated on a larger scale.”
After graduating from Georgia College & State University in spring 2024, Thompson plans to instill her love of art in others by teaching it.
“It's important to foster that creative spirit at a young age, because not many subjects in school focus on giving kids full rein of their creativity,” Thompson said. “It's really important for art teachers to do that.”
“Teaching art is different from teaching creativity,” she said. “That's an important distinction, because you can make good art but not be a good artist. I can look at a tree and copy it perfectly. But if I’m not inspired and taking some sort of risk, it doesn't really hold much weight. It's so important for kids to use their natural creativity to think outside the box.”
Working as a teacher’s aide in a Pre-K after-school program reinforced Thompson’s decision to teach art. Each day, she created coloring books for students, using a Sharpie®. Then, students colored the pictures. Thompson was surprised by her creativity.
“It made me realize I have this huge passion for art, and I can learn from it,” she said. “A student came to me and said, ‘I want a marshmallow with a ponytail playing ping pong.’ I could never come up with that idea on my own.”
“Somewhere in the process of working with the kids and seeing their creative sides grow through encouragement was the coolest thing ever to me,” Thompson said. “And I thought, ‘I could do this forever.’”
If she was going to spend most days of her life in a profession, Thompson knew it should be something she loves—and there’s nothing she loves more than art.
Thompson feels more individuals should reap the benefits of getting in touch with their creative side—something she can’t wait to teach her future students.
“Painting gives people a space to control,” she said. “Especially in the last couple of years, there’ve been very few things we can grasp and have complete control over. Having a blank piece of paper in front of you and making whatever you want is the most freeing feeling in the world. It’s a great outlet for anyone.”