Drawn to the Arts
Finding Purpose Through Creative Expression
“I don’t want to seem,” Jacob Whittinghill hesitates, not wanting to appear overly confident or boastful. It’s a well-worn battle for many young adults who are growing confident in their abilities while still harboring a tinge of teenage self-doubt. For Jacob, it is the struggle between the fear of not being ‘enough’ and the acknowledgment that he is an outstanding young artist. While he may not fully embrace his talent, Jacob was recently announced as one of the top student artists in the nation. After a moment of reflection where you can sense the internal pep talk, he sighs and responds with a simple, “I know I am a good artist.”
Good is an understatement.
Jacob, a senior at Clarksville High School, received a perfect score on the Advanced Placement (AP) 2-D Art and Design Exam. His perfect score was, in fact, so perfect he was one of only 197 students in the world to earn every point possible on the exam. Now entering senior year, he will submit a second portfolio for the AP 2-D Art and Design Exam. Even with his achievement last year, there remains apprehension around another submission.
“I know I can do better. I need to try my hardest. [Last year] I was second-guessing everything.” This year, Jacob plans to focus on his audience. “I want other people to look at [my art] and feel what it’s about.” This year, he hopes to express the importance of relationships with other people. With his previous submission, the work looked inward and explored his feelings. The introspective look into his life was heavily influenced by media consumption and his feelings surrounding life events. Now he says, “I want to use my art to help others express feelings.”
He likens it to the same experience people have when they listen to music. “I get so much of my inspiration from music. Music creates a mood.” His hope is people will experience the same response while viewing his artwork.
Inside Clarksville High, in Ms. Mary Maxwell’s AP art class, Jacob feels he has the space and freedom to express himself creatively. His relationship with Ms. Maxwell began during his Sophomore year. “I’ve always liked her,” he said. “But recently, we have really connected again. I was not feeling creatively inspired and not putting in as much effort [last year]. She’s been helping me get back on track.”
Jacob admits that his creativity comes in waves and, like many artists, the creative slumps are sometimes hard to overcome. But he says that Ms. Maxwell continues to challenge and support him throughout the process, which has made an enormous difference in his work. As part of the AP submission process, Ms. Maxwell sets deadlines throughout the year as students set up their portfolios. By the end of the year, they’re left with a completed work ready to submit. Her consistency provides structure and allows students like Jacob a chance to focus on one goal at a time.
With the AP submission, students must include a sustained investigation and selected works. The sustained investigation is under a theme with approximately 15 images. The goal is 8 – 10 finished pieces and supporting sketches. Jacob explains it’s not as simple as finishing 15 works of art. Students have to show the creative process and have a throughline of theme and focus. “AP has been making me plan and conceptualize,” he explains. It helps because he admits, “It comes in phases when I’m feeling creative.”
Although his creativity may ebb and flow, his interest in art has remained constant. At East Montgomery Elementary School, Jacob developed a deep sense of belonging and appreciation for creative expression, which he attributes to his beloved art teacher, Miss Jackson. “She cared a lot about the kids,” he remembers. “She wanted to help us build on our skills,” Jacob remembers fondly his time spent at art club and even matching his teacher on spirit days. Her enthusiasm and encouragement sowed the seed for his future passion. “She helped me realize this was something I could be really good at.”
The support from his teachers through the years has subtly shaped Jacob’s path toward his future.
When Ms. Maxwell received news of Jacob’s achievement on the AP exam, she did not let the opportunity to celebrate slip by. With a massive smile, Jacob remembers how she had everyone in class stand and applaud him. “It felt really good,” he admits. “It has given me a new desire to put in even more effort.”
In the future, Jacob wants to use his art and creative expression in a profession. One idea he is exploring is art therapy. Mental health professionals use the creative process to produce artwork as a therapeutic and healing process. Jacob hopes to use his talent to support children and young adults. “It would be a way for me to be creative and share it with other people,” he explains. “I could help younger kids… give them an opportunity to express themselves.”
For now, Jacob continues to explore and push his artistic mastery. He is building a sustainable future in creative arts. Success looks different for every student, and CMCSS will continue to encourage exploration and talent as individuals explore multiple pathways.