When I was four years old, I realized how difficult it was to find my own voice. I had just immigrated from China to a small town in New Jersey, and the only thing I knew how to say in English, was “Can I please go to the bathroom?” (lol). Fast-forward some years to middle school, and I still struggled with speaking up for myself, approaching strangers, and developing the confidence to be who I wanted to be.

A Work in Progress by Annie Zhao

Throughout that time however, art (in its many forms) inspired me to open up. I think all of us remember the first time we received recognition for being good at something. For me this occurred at eight years old, when I realized that my artwork was going to be hung up in the school hallways for all the other kids to see. Bursting with pride, I discovered something I was truly passionate about and could excel in. I came home to my parents that day, eager to sign up for art classes and buy my first set of sketching pencils. I was mesmerized by the breathtaking hues created with three primary colors, and how challenging yet beckoning a blank canvas could be in enticing me to come up with new illustrations. From pen doodles on notebooks to brushstrokes on canvases, I realized that a new outlet was all it took for me to express myself creatively, allowing me to share my perspective and for others to see a different side of me as well.

In high school and college, art not only created a sense of pride in regards to my capabilities and creativity; it also helped me countless times in living with academic stress and cultural expectations, all of which came from the journey of personal development and self discovery we all take as naive but fearless young adults. Growing up as an Asian immigrant and going to a high school where academic excellence was all that determined one’s success, I had few outlets to relieve such built-up stress and pressure. By senior year, I had bottled up this faint but creeping fear of the unknown, often thinking too much and pondering over where I’d end up, who I wanted to become, and what I wanted to achieve. There were few places I could turn to where I could really relax and deliberate these thoughts in peace, but thank god fourth period art and weekly studio lessons were those rare places. Through this mindful meditation of sorts, I solidified a routine of winding down a hectic week with two solid hours of quiet contemplation- just me, my iPod, and whatever creation would unravel.

A Work in Progress by Annie Zhao

Fast forward to July 2018: I’ve graduated from college, survived a daunting transition into adulthood, and am slowly but surely paving my path towards independency. Through the years, art truly taught me how rich and complex life can really be. Although I might not be sketching and painting as much as I used to, I’ve developed passions that still stimulates a creative mindset, such as writing for my website (stay tuned!) and ideating solutions for various businesses at my full-time job. And so, despite devoting less time to creating traditional art pieces, I still think it’s necessary to incorporate some artistic drive towards everything and anything I strive for.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remind ourselves that we all need to take a breath away from the clutter of society-based perceptions and problems once in a while, just to fully appreciate how much there is to be thankful for and celebrate how we all have something to contribute to our community, society, and world. We all are works in progress, building up layers of ourselves as we continue to explore, interact, and create. Let’s remember that.

A Work in Progress by Annie Zhao

“Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.”

– Osho


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