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Graduation Speaker: Lily Stelzer, Art

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Submitted on June 20, 2021 - 2:03pm
Lily Stelzer
Lily Stelzer

Lily Stelzer finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art in December 2020. She was the Division of Art's undergraduate speaker for the School's virtual Graduation Celebration 2021. Below is the text of her speech.


Yesterday, I met up with a group of artists in the Quad outside of the Art Building. Some people I only knew from Zoom classes or Instagram, and some I met in my first classes at UW and, over the years, they have become my closest friends. Amelie had organized a pop-up outdoor art show, an idea she first pitched one night at her apartment after eating a lot of lasagna, looking through a stack of art books and talking about dreams of showing our work in a gallery.

We met up under a cherry tree and helped each other set up our work. We propped up paintings on trees and benches, laid soft sculpture down on the grass, and weighed watercolors and prints down with rocks so they wouldn’t blow away in the wind.

We sat on blankets in the grass and caught up on the last year, watched passers'by stop to look at our art, ate cookies, blew giant bubbles with a soap mixture Amelie had made, and enjoyed the sun. It felt sort of overwhelming to see peoples faces and bodies at once. Every once in a while, someone would run off to pick up a friend’s painting when the wind blew it down.

I learned a lot during my time in the Division of Art — I learned how to paint, I learned how to take my work seriously, I learned never to take the elevator without a cell phone in case it got stuck between floors. Also, a lot about Mondrian, thanks to Marek.

But the most important resource the Division of Art has given me are the people I’ve met there. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for emerging artists that we can just search Craigslist for. It’s not like we can apply to an entry-level position or get an internship that leads to a job offer and ends in a career making art. All of the opportunities to show and sell work I’ve been a part of have been opportunities my friends have made for ourselves.

Even residencies and grants — our group chat left over from senior studio is full of links to opportunities and projects and artist resource websites. One friend recently requested everyone send him photos of any walls we came across that looked promising for murals.

Since graduating in December, I’ve been missing the Art Building and missing my professors. Taking paintings out to the hallway to look at with Helen, who always made me feel more confident in my instincts and more capable than I’d thought. And the adrenaline/panic of Zhi coming up behind me in a figure drawing class and going, FASTER. Also, how he would call my figure drawings orangutans when the arms were too long but could never remember the word for orangutan. And, how Ann would find a really cool pattern in piece of plywood or notice light reflecting on the window and point it out. One time, she gathered a group from senior studio to go look at how the spotlight on a beachball in one of Helen’s still life setups made the beachball look like it was glowing.

I won’t be able to re-create those moments outside of UW. But, late nights in the studio, everyone painting in a panic right before a deadline, or birthday lunches on the Ave, or the mess of cardboard scraps and cellophane right before a print sale, or piling up rags to stop floodwater from reaching our friends paintings at 1am on a rainy night — all of that stuff doesn't have to end after graduation.

It’s been hard to keep making art after graduating — without critiques and deadlines and a studio to go to. But every time I talk to my friends about art, about how hard it is or about something they’re working on or about a new artist they’re looking at, I get a little jolt of excitement for my own work. Our community doesn’t end after we leave the Art Building, and we don’t have to work alone for the next step in our careers. We’re all graduating with a group of amazing, driven artists and incredibly cool people, and I’m grateful to be taking the next steps with all of you.

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