Emily Lew combines art and activism in AP Portfolio



Artist Emily Lew ’18 showcases her work from freshman to senior year. Lew’s paintings are inspired by a passion for animal activism, as evident in “Cured Ham” and “Glamorous Aggresor,” her work pictured from junior and senior year, respectively.

Harris Bubalo, Staff Writer

Art is fueled by passion. It takes raw emotions like love, sadness, or pride, and refines them into pieces that express the subject matter on a deeper level of understanding. Graduate Emily Lew ’18 recognizes that this power of art of can be used for something other than just human emotion: animals.

Throughout her high school art journey, Lew developed not only her technical painting abilities, but also a passion for animal activism, which translates into her meaningful, eye-opening pieces.

According to Lew, art had been a part of her life even before arriving at the high school. However, the freedom provided by the high school’s many art classes, in contrast to the rigid structure of middle school art, is what truly propelled her development further.

“In middle school, I didn’t feel like my thinking as an artist was challenged a lot,” Lew said. “But when you get to the high school, you sign up for an art class because you want to be there and you want to learn new things. It’s more challenging in the sense that you get to design your own pieces or interpret prompts in your own way.”

With this freedom, she was eventually able to develop a focal point for her art: animal and environmental awareness. As a vegetarian, Lew naturally developed an interest for these topics, and in turn, channeled it into her paintings.

Donna Sartanowicz, an art teacher that Lew has had, cited a painting that Lew made in response to a prompt that challenged the idea of “proximity.” The painting, titled “Cured Ham,” depicted a pig trapped in a small cage, and Sartanowicz believes that Lew’s expert use of a closed space in the piece emphasizes her message of empathy for animals.

“It was taking it away from a human-centric view and was allowing you to see it from the animal’s eyes, which is a deeper feeling than just sympathy,” Sartanowicz said. “It’s like when you walk in someone’s shoes, it’s a deeper understanding of the condition.”

As a senior, Lew is a part of the Advanced Placement Portfolio class, a course in which the entire year is spent building a portfolio of work that fits with a certain theme, or “concentration.” Lew took this opportunity to further her exploration of the relationship between humans and animals.

“My concentration was looking at how the world is so human-centric, and trying to move away from that,” Lew said. “I was challenging the idea that the world is only humans and nobody else, so I gave animals a personality and character, and created empathy for them.”

Fellow artist, graduate Julia Van ’18, was surprised at how quickly Lew was able to devise a concentration, and believes that it representative of Lew’s passion.

“When she first talked about her concentration, I was very impressed that she could come up with something like that,” Van said. “She knew what she wanted to do in the beginning of the year, but a lot of us found our concentration in, like, the third quarter. That just says how passionate she is about what she’s doing and the subject matter.”

Just as high school arts have helped Lew explore her artistic passions, they also led to various other advancements, both technical or psychological.

Both Van and Sartanowicz mentioned their admiration for Lew’s sharp use of color. Van in particular, who primarily draws with charcoal, finds it interesting to watch Lew experiment with paint.

“Instead of being inspired by the subject matter itself, I’m more inspired by her process of art making,” Van said. “It doesn’t matter what she is painting, the way she paints it is more impactful. She’s just really amazing. I like watching her paint; it seems like she makes things come to life.”

Lew also recognizes how her entire attitude towards art-making has changed over the course of high school.

“At the beginning of my art practice, I would try to plan everything out,” Lew said. “It gets tiring, and I came to realize that art isn’t always about planning everything out and then executing. Especially in Advanced and AP, I’ve worked on being more spontaneous with my art: having an idea and then just going for it, without being scared of how it’s going to turn out in the end.”

Now that her final year is almost complete, Lew takes the time to consider the future of her art. She is pursuing a Biology major, but knows that she still has to continue doing art one way or another.

“As this year is coming to a close, I’m starting to think about what life would be without art,” Lew said. “I can’t really imagine it because, honestly, it would be depressing. Art has enriched my life so much, so I couldn’t possibly see myself letting it go.”

In all, from her notable technical ability to the profound messages that come through her art, Lew is more than just an art student in Sartanowicz eyes.

“A lot of people, when they first start working in art, they just want to be able to make it look real or make it look like what’s in their head,” Sartanowicz said. “That’s the technical part of being an artist, but an artist is someone who communicates ideas, who experiences the world, feels deeply about things, and is willing to share that visually. I felt like she took it past the point of being an art student, and she started acting like an artist.”