Student View: Being a 'real' artist

October 4, 2021 - Liz Schondelmayer

MSU PLS alumna Liz Schondelmayer is a graduate student in the MSU Strategic Communication Master’s Program as well as a full-time communications coordinator for the MSU College of Social Science. Schondelmayer was part of the MSU Honors College and Social Science Scholars Program. She earned her undergraduate degrees in political science and media and information from MSU in 2019.

The definition of the word “artist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "a person who creates art (such as painting, sculpture, music or writing) using conscious skill and creative imagination." Based on that definition, I've been an artist since before I could spell my own name.

To my parents' and teachers' dismay, I spent my entire K-12 career doodling on every math test, spelling quiz and notebook I came into contact with. Even to this day, all of my notes from my lectures and my work meetings are covered in sketches of flowers, skulls and any other absent-minded design that my hand scribbles out while my brain is paying attention.

Though art and self-expression have always been deeply, deeply important to me, I never felt right about calling myself an “artist.” It wasn't something I did competitively or professionally, and I never felt like I was good enough to be a real artist. An amateur artist? Sure. But a real artist? No way. 

However, my attitude towards this changed drastically over the last 18 months. For me personally, this last year and a half has been defined as a time of great learning and unlearning: While I gained a deeper understanding of the racism and classism exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and did my best to unlearn past biases, I was also discovering the strength and resiliency I myself am capable of.

During this time, I was working closely with my fellow #MSUSocialScience communicators and our Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Dr. Nwando Achebe, to launch a new college-wide DEI feature in July of 2020. Since then, every month, I've worked to tell the stories of students, alumni, staff and faculty who have overcome incredible odds and are working to make the world a safer and more accepting place for everyone. 

Their passion for their activism inspired me to take action. To do something. To say something — anything to help combat the injustices that too many of us have accepted as normal. 

Additionally, while I was learning to become a better ally to different marginalized communities, I was also learning that — when push comes to shove — I am capable of a lot more than I had ever realized. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed to me that, for much of my life, I've grossly underestimated myself. I had grappled with Imposter Syndrome since I stepped foot on MSU's campus, and I carried a lot of that doubt within myself, even as a graduate student and full-time employee.

However, the twists and turns of the emotional roller coaster that COVID-19 has been has proven to me that life is too short — and unpredictable — to waste time doubting myself and holding myself back… especially when the need for advocacy and allyship is so high. 

Because of this, I decided to use my artistic talents to enter ArtPrize with a piece challenging regressive assumptions and dangerous stereotypes many Americans hold towards people of color. This prestigious community-based art event has been held in the city of Grand Rapids since 2009, and has featured work from some of the most famous artists from around the world.

And I made it in. 

Not only is my piece displayed in the beautiful Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation building, but it also was highlighted by a local Grand Rapids news site as well. As expected, the piece has sparked some praise, some constructive criticism, some not-so-constructive criticism and, overall, it has served the purpose I hoped it would — it started a conversation.

To be able to call myself an ArtPrize artist is an incredibly huge accomplishment and, on a personal level, it is a major victory and testament to how much we are capable of when we trust ourselves and our talents. And when that self-trust is married with a passion for a greater good, that is when we are able to accomplish truly incredible things.