Emma Sranske submitted this photo of her grandfather for St. Thomas More High School’s Virtual Art Show. (Photo courtesy of Emma Sranske)

At St. Thomas More High School, Jodi Brzezinski’s AP 14 art students spent the fall semester building their art portfolios and when they were finished, held a virtual art fair showcasing some of their work.

According to Brzezinski, the visual arts department chair, each art project began with a guided question so students could plan and execute their piece.

“This is a lot more work than it sounds. The questions students came up with needed to guide their work both physically and conceptually. Questions like ‘How can a line convey a message of fun and upbeat?’ or ‘How can I use unconventional art materials to give a haunting presence in my work?’ helped start their compositions,” she said. “Students then were able to critique each other’s work and ask those guiding questions to get feedback from their peers.”

Brzezinski said each student was responsible for picking a theme and exploring it for the rest of the semester.

“They have to come up with one big juicy question, something they are passionate about, and explore and answer it solely with visuals. It is quite the task,” she said. “Each year, I see their work all throughout the semester as we critique each week. But each year, it always surprises me when we put it together for the show. I think it looks so different seeing it complete and with the other pieces they have chosen to display for the show. Sometimes they go back in and touch up the pieces, or completely change them based on previous critiques. I know what’s coming from the kids because I do get to see the process and progress, but it is always a surprise when it comes together.”

After receiving a Nikon D3400 camera for Christmas several years ago, Emma Sranske began snapping photos of family, friends and scenery. Photography captivated her so much; she took on the role of Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook and participated in photography competitions at the Wisconsin State Fair. She also plans to major in film in college.

While her color photography is stunning, Sranske opted to create her portfolio with black-and-white portraits, such as her personal favorite, one of her grandfather celebrating his birthday.

“They all portray a moment where they were not posed for the camera; the picture is formed from just simply living or a reaction. Color can sometimes distract the viewer, so I wanted to focus the viewers’ attention to the pure emotion in the model(s),” she said. “Making this choice was not difficult, as I personally love black-and-white photography. It was more risky to ensure that my purpose would translate. Some other people may not like the black-and-white, and that’s OK. Photography is subjective. All I can do from the artist perspective is make choices and take possible risks to try and portray my story.”

When Cali Bialoszynski received her first camera in 2015, she was instantly in love with capturing emotions, scenery and events. Her portfolio consists of scenery to communicate happiness and peacefulness. Producing concrete ideas of this was the most challenging aspect of the assignment.

“Personally, I like being able to choose what I want to take pictures of, because most of the time it revolves around my feelings at the time and or things that I have been through,” she said. “I like being able to relate the pieces I have taken to events other individuals may have gone through.”

Each piece Bialoszynski creates has a different message, but each connects to her life and issues she has overcome.

“The message of the piece I have attached represents the beginning of a new life. The effortless flow of things being brought to you in terms of positive feelings,” she said. “Being able to look at something and realize that everything is going to be OK; that there are good days in front of the bad ones.”

Using unconventional media, such as coffee grounds and hot chocolate, Eleanor Tezak Unti has learned to project her voice through her art.

“I’ve been really focusing on trying to move out of my comfort zone in doing larger pieces and trying to avoid outlining my pieces,” she said. “By letting loose and creating without laying down a penciled framework, I’ve been better able to produce pieces with more depth and dimension. Finally, this semester I have begun to explore my sustained investigation topic in which I use my art to answer the question, ‘What happens to our sense of childhood imagination as we go into adulthood?’”

The pieces Tezak Unti used for her winter showcase focused on who she is as a person. Some, such as her piece titled, “Anxiety,” surround issues where she struggles.

“A few of the darker pieces did cover things that I do personally struggle with, anxiety being one of the bigger issues,” she said. “One of the most challenging things about this project was trying to go through my pieces and pick which ones were good enough to display in the show. I’m rather self-critical when it comes to my pieces and that made it a bit more difficult to choose ones that I saw as good enough.”

Tezak Unti’s struggle is one that Brzezinski said is the hardest for her to witness. While her students’ work needs to fit within a certain parameter, they all seem to struggle with the self-sufficiency of the class.

“They understand that it is a lot of work and they are very capable of motivating themselves, but they never really know or understand this until they are in the midst of actually creating this much work. They think that every piece needs to be perfect and ‘done,’” Brzezinski said. “They need to produce a lot of work to be able to pick the best of the best work from. There is so much instant in our lives, in our world presently and they take a while to understand that it takes a lot of time to make a lot of art.”

To view the Winter AP Studio Art Show, visit https://tmore.org/artshowwinter2020/.