Looking in the Mirror as a Young, Female, Art Student

Shelby Lux

Daneen Bergland

Popular Culture

16 November 2014

Looking in the Mirror as a Young, Female Art Student

With the upbringing of new movies over the past years, common stereotypical portrayals are quite easy to recognize. For example, popular kids are commonly shown to be snobby while smart kids are usually shown as being nerdy and bullied in school. Much like these more well-known stereotypes, art students are shown similarly to each other but shown less frequently. Art students are all portrayed a little differently depending on the movies. Most of the time, these characters are not the focal point and act in the background behind the leading role. Unlike the portrayals in movies that show art students to be outcasts, unpopular and dark compared to their peers, real life art students differ greatly. While comparing the art students in movies to myself, I noticed that my appearance and personality are opposite or more toned down then their exaggerated characteristics. Often times, art students are not the way popular culture media represents them physically, in regards to both fashion and personality.

I, myself, am an art student studying graphic design at Portland State University. I spend most of my days in the art building on 5th avenue with other students that also have a passion for art. From seeing and interacting with art students’ first-hand, it is easy to compare the differences between real life students vs. movie portrayals. For example, in the popular click flick comedy Mean Girls which is a movie about Cady Heron a 16-year-old homeschooled girl, returns to the United States after 12-years in Africa and attends public school for the first time. Janis and Damian who are classmates with Cady warn her to avoid the school’s most exclusive clique, the Plastics. The Plastics soon take an interest. Soon after, Cady is slowly becoming one of The Plastics and Janis plans revenge against Regina with Cady as an infiltrator (Wiki).  One of the main characters is Janis, who is a gothic, outcast art student. She is often looked down upon her other peers based on her exaggerated style and personality. Janis has jet black hair, normally wears black clothing with bold accessories. Unlike her peers she is brutally honest, outspoken, and very different making it more difficult to truly relate with. I had a difficult time even relating to her even as an art student myself.


After watching the movie, I was curious as to what others thought about Janis and her bold, gothic style. I found this web article called “Where’s the beef?” In it, Peter Rainer mentions “[Cady] immediately gets pulled into a vortex of cliques—the Plastics, the Mathletes, and the freaks and geeks in between” (Rainer). This quote is a clear example of how someone’s appearance effects the way others view them and instantly categorizes them into different groups. Rainer’s article was the only review I could find online that somewhat referred to Janis. Others focused on Cady played by Lindsay Lohan and the “plastics”. It was interesting to me that even with her artistic and unique style, her character blended into the background and didn’t seem as important as the others based on the movie responses.  Janis is portrayed as an artistic freak who is different compared to her surrounding peers.  In most cases, I am very soft spoken, quite in larger groups of people, less opinionated and often wear colorful or neutral clothing that doesn’t stand out that much from a crowd. I have loose light brown waves and rarely wear any jewelry because it makes me feel too dressed up. If someone were to see Janis and me standing right next to each other, it would be easy to recognize how opposite we really are based on our personalities and appearance. Even though, art students are creative individuals and often times think “outside of the box”, their appearance and personalities don’t always reflect this in real life.


As well as being portrayed as outcasts, art students are often shown to unpopular. In movies such as Art School Confidential which is about how the main character, Jerome pursues his true obsession to art school. As he learns how the art world really works, he finds that he must adapt to the reality that faces him (IMDb). Jerome attends art school focusing on being an illustrator. Before school, he had all these high expectations and ideals of how art school would be like. When got to class, he realized it was not like how he imagined it to be. After a while, he becomes friends with Bardo who is considered to be a loser by others. With this, Jerome is looked down upon by his peers. For example, in classroom critiques negative feedback was given out to unpopular kids even if the quality of work was far better than others. In real life classroom critiques that is unlikely to happen. From my experience, art students tend to judge each other based on the quality of art work rather than solely off of the actual artist. In high school, I do remember there being cliques between students but art students were minimal and usually weren’t constrained to one label. For example, in school I took almost every art class available and I was friends with the students that wanted to pursue the arts as well but that didn’t stop me from being friends with individuals from other cliques. I wasn’t never looked down upon from my peers from my passion and don’t remember ever being treated negatively based off of my status in school. In previous critiques, my peers would give appropriate feedback depending on the art work. With this experience, when I see art students portrayed as being unpopular it’s unsettling. It is difficult for me to watch students treated so badly in movies and even television shows with false interpretations. In real life situations, art students can vary in status and are often times shown in a brighter, positive light.


Another misconception about art students that I have heard quite often is that artists have darker souls than other types of individuals. While some art can come off as dark or unsettling, this doesn’t always mean that the artist is. In the movie She’s All That which is about how a high school jock makes a bet with a friend that he can turn an unattractive girl into the school’s next prom queen and his friend chooses Laney, an outcast art student. (IMDb)  Laney who is a high school artist is considered to be very dark and solitary compared to her peers. With past experiences, Laney thought that if she hid away from others, she could escape the hurtful situations that come with being a teenager. She draws inspiration from her troubling past into her paintings such as her mom passing away when she was a young girl and is often times found to be in her dark basement acting as her art studio. Much like Laney, I have made darker pieces which usually held a deeper meaning but I wouldn’t consider myself to be a dark person. I have had negative experiences in my life occur that have put me in a dark place for a while much like other individuals have. For me, to forgive and forget about these negative event, I create. Whether it be: painting, drawing or taking photographs, I enjoy making pieces inspired by what has happened in my life. Doing this, acts as a coping mechanism because it allows me to relive a moment, emotionally deal with it and move forward. I don’t think that constrains me of having a dark, stand offish personality. Many artists will make dark pieces to make their audience somewhat uncomfortable and informed. This darkness does not, more often than not, correspond directly to the students’ personality, usually just an emotional state after a tragic event.

From my observations, the portrayals of art students in movies such as Mean Girls, Art School Confidential and She’s All That are not always 100% accurate to everyday artists. In movies, artists are often shown as being dark, outcasts, and unpopular compared to their peers. While comparing myself to the stereotypical portrayals it’s easy to see that I don’t fit into the “common art student” category based on how I look and act compared to my peers. From the movies I’ve watched I can say, I’m not as brutally honest and bold like Janis, I’m very quiet in comparison. My art work was never judged in a critique based off of my peers’ preference on whether they liked me personally or not like Jerome’s experience. Even if I’m having a bad day, I don’t come across as dark as Laney does in She’s All That. After looking at the above examples, it is easy to see that real life art students are not the way popular culture media tends to represent them physically as well as in terms of personality and fashion. All in all, it’s unclear to tell just based on appearance whether or not a person is pursuing the arts without getting to know them a little better.

Work Cited

Art School Confidential. Dir. Terry Zwigoff. Perf. Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, and John Malkovich. Sony Pictures Classics. 2006.

“Art School Confidential.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Mean Girls. Dir. Mark S. Waters. Perf. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Tina Fey. Paramount, 2004.

“Mean Girls.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Rainer, Peter. “Where’s the Beef?” NYMag.com. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://nymag.com/nymetro/movies/reviews/n_10326/&gt;.

She’s All That. Dir. Robert Iscove. Perf. Freddie Prinze, Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, and Paul Walker.  Miramax Films. 1999.

“She’s All That.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

2 thoughts on “Looking in the Mirror as a Young, Female, Art Student

  1. Shelby,
    I really enjoyed reading your essay. I am also a graphic design student, so I can really relate to this identity. The sources you chose were great and you had great commentary to back up each source. I will never understand why people always refer to art students as “the weird art kids” or think we are mad at the world all the time. Then again, I will never understand most stereotypes! Great work!

    • Thank you very much Haley. That is really cool that you are also a graphic design student. I completely agree with you there, I don’t really understand most stereotypes either. Almost all of them seem to be false anyways.

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