The Harbinger Online

Painting His Own Path


Photo by Annie Lomshek

Senior Clayton Phillips finishes his sketch, a series of three dimensional pentagons with light radiating from the center, then crushes it into a ball. He tosses it next to the mound of other crumpled papers and begins his next piece.

After deciding to apply to art school, Clayton will forgo the traditional post-high school route of attending a four-year college or university.

Clayton grappled with the decision to go to a four-year university and major in Fine Arts, or take a chance and attend art school. If he had chosen a traditional university, Clayton would have had to wait two years before declaring his major in Fine Arts.

“After doing some research, and really looking into it, I knew [a four-year college] would not be the right route for me,” Clayton said. “I want to be all in and not be wasting time doing other stuff when I could be in the studio working on and developing my art.”

In contrast to traditional colleges, art schools would be almost exclusively related to art. Most art schools have a calendar that consists of two-thirds studio classes and one-third liberal arts classes- which are more traditional core subjects. The schools Clayton has applied to are the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Kansas City Art Institute.

Clayton will have to submit his Common Application, similar to most schools, along with a portfolio of his work which according to Clayton, should have a fluid theme throughout. Clayton’ focus for his portfolio is mathematics, faith and the correlation and relationship between the two. Clayton uses geometric shapes and designs to conceptualize mathematics while using light as a common symbol for faith and religion.

“I’ve been really into labyrinths, which kind of symbolize life as a fluid movement, in and out of the world,” Clayton said in a previous interview with the Harbinger. “I’ve really been looking at a lot of symbols of spirituality coinciding with the natural world.”

He uses painting and drawing to explain and demonstrate the bridge between the natural world and the spiritual world. When Clayton explained his focus to his teacher, AP/IB Studio teacher Adam Finkelston, he saw a level of maturity in Clayton that he previously didn’t see. Finkelston believes the two topics that Clayton chose come with a challenge of physically describing two very complex, psychological topics.

“It’s especially mature to be able to visualize [mathematics and faith] because that’s not really something that’s easy to talk about,” Finkelston said. “But if you visualize it, it makes it easier to talk about.”

Clayton has been driven as an artist since he decided it was what he wanted to be in grade school. He first was exposed to art while taking classes at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as a young kid in elementary school.

“He has always loved to create art and has a deep love of art museums,” his mother, Amy Phillips said. “In grade school, we’d go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the guards would have to ask us to leave because they were closing.”

Since his first class at the Nelson, his passion towards art has continued to grow. From making pinch pots in kindergarten to making elaborate abstract designs that take a week to complete, Clayton has excelled throughout his artistic career. Influence from teachers and classes taken outside of school has allowed him to continue his affinity for art.

As he grew, Clayton has begun to see more and more of a future in his art. Instead of trying to sell paintings, he wants to use his passion to design for companies or museums.

“From the outside it looks like I’m trying to sell paintings and get in a gallery and I would be a starving artist or whatever that crap is,” Clayton said. “These days it’s a lot different. The art scene is very different, it’s been modernized and there [are] tons of opportunities for artists.”

Clayton doesn’t want live under the stigma of a struggling artist. He chose art school because he wants to work in a studio or museum, using his artistic ideas and creativity as an outlet for more possible forms of art.

“Almost every moment of your day, you will be influenced by art and design,” Amy said. “Think about it. In this ever-changing digital world, many companies are looking toward the creative and artistic design candidates, as well as the traditional business candidates.”

Clayton isn’t worried about what the future holds, whether he is a successful independent artist or a designer for a company, but he knows art school is the route that will open opportunities for him to succeed later in life.

“I believe to have a passion in life is a gift, whether it is music, art, sports etc,” Amy said. “But to have the ability to also do those things well is and honor and has a responsibility to do your best. And that is what Clayton has always done.”

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