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A Work Celebrated: Art student has work selected for Sarasota exhibit

Gracie Cliff

A fall art project by Carson-Newman University senior Gracie Cliff, of Morristown, has moved from classroom critique to billboard prominence.

From Jan. 15–April 10, Cliff’s work is slated for display via a billboard located at Bayfront Park in Sarasota, Florida. The opportunity came about when Cliff’s artwork was one of 50 to be selected from more than 17,000 entries representing 123 countries. The selection was part of an art competition and exhibit sponsored by Embracing Our Differences, a not-for-profit organization based in Sarasota.

“I created portraits of people that represent my community, and I added the phrase “seek to understand the experiences of others,” said Cliff, who is an art major with a dual emphasis in Drawing & Painting and Graphic Design.I want people to understand that unique experiences are important and should be understood.

Cliff said she began the piece by hand drawing the portraits with graphite and then edited them using Adobe Illustrator.

“I desire to represent people and concepts truthfully, and often find myself working in realism,” said Cliff in her submitted artist statement. “In this piece I created illustrations of various people who represent my community.”

Julie Rabun, who serves as chair of Carson-Newman’s Art Department, knew for students to be selected for the exhibit would be a challenge.

“When I introduced this project to our Graphic Design III students last fall, I knew it was a steeply competitive opportunity, but I also knew our students were capable of competing with anyone,” Rabun said.

Rabun explained that students learn they must develop tough skin as artists because rejection is experienced more than acceptance. She said that for Cliff to receive such credit for her work is a lesson in “putting yourself out there and reaping the benefits.”

“As artists and designers, our Art Department faculty regularly share with our students that success is only gained through failure,” Rabun said. “Rejection is a normal part of the business of creativity, but if you don’t submit your work and participate in opportunities, you will never enjoy the experience of having your work recognized and validated.”

Cliff credits C-N’s Art Department for helping her prepare for such challenges.

“Mrs. Julie Rabun has always encouraged me to take advantage of my skills and create work that would stand apart and showcase my abilities as a designer,” Cliff said. “The community of students in the art department taught me the value of working with a team and learning from others.” 

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