At panel, alumni artists share power of their work

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Laboratory Schools

It's very important to stick to improving upon previous work, and not focus on others in your same field, say all three artists.

Adrianna Nehme, Reporter

Many students follow a scripted path to success at the expense of pursuing their true passion, but three U-High alumni artists shared during the “Power of Art in its Many Forms” online panel May 28 that passion in their field drove each on the unique path they took toward their chosen careers.

Moderated by fine arts department co-chair Allison Beaulieu, the panel featured Kamau Bell, a socio-political comedian who graduated in 1990; Karim Sulayman, a musical artist who graduated in 1994; and Amanda Williams, a visual artist who graduated in 1992. 

The artists highlighted how they each approached practice. 

As a classical musician, Mr. Sulayman compared his practice to that of an athlete where he must keep his entire body in shape to avoid becoming tired on stage. He emphasized bringing his best-self to any situation. 

Ms. Williams highlighted practice as a love for a passion rather than preparation for something.

“There’s a misunderstanding that when you’ve achieved a level of success that somehow you’re doing it for the success as opposed to understanding that this is in your bones,” Ms. Williams said.

Mr. Bell discussed the importance of being comforted by failure rather than being beaten down by it.

“You have to endure the bad times to get to the good times, but if you let a bad practice or set knock you out, then you are not that serious about becoming good,” Mr. Bell said.

According to all three artists, it’s vital to avoid competing with other members of the same field. While this can be difficult in a time where there is high pressure to be the best, Mr. Bell said he competes with only himself through reflecting and improving his previous work.

Ms. Williams addressed how the pressure to succeed can be a blinding factor that leads to a lack of meaning for a specific passion. According to Mr. Sulayman, this can be avoided by remaining present in the moment, which he discussed through an example of anticipating a fear-inducing high note.

“Eventually I feel like you get to a point where you are doing every note in its moment the way that you want to do it, and then the high note happens, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s one-note, and that’s not success or failure either,” Mr. Sulayman said.

The artists concluded by sharing their experiences as former students at U-High trying to follow a passion for art. 

You can see the teachers who are actively going out of their way to connect with their kids, and it doesn’t mean that you expect every teacher to do it, but you certainly appreciate it when you can see a teacher goes ‘I see you as an individual.”

— Kamau Bell

Mr. Bell said he never felt a deep individual connection with his teachers.

“You can see the teachers who are actively going out of their way to connect with their kids, and it doesn’t mean that you expect every teacher to do it, but you certainly appreciate it when you can see a teacher goes ‘I see you as an individual,’” Mr. Bell said.

  Mr. Sulayman also had a difficult experience at U-High as a student who enjoyed classical music. He had to seek outside resources such as the Chicago Children’s Choir to keep him going. 

Ms. Williams carries the sense of community and equitable environment that she felt and experienced while at Lab.

“I really do think that creating an equitable environment is critical,” Ms. Williams said. “It’s what I experienced, so I know it’s possible.”