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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Monday, May 20, 2024
The Echo
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Freshman Aspen Postma explores self-expression through art

Postma embraces expression using art

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words — but how many pictures does it take to communicate your true identity? 

For Aspen Postma, a freshman artist transitioning from a major in art education to pre-art therapy, the answer was 12. One dozen art pieces. One dozen attempts at learning the meaning of self-expression.

Beginning as a project for her senior year AP art class in high school, Postma’s journey in expression has produced a ripple effect in her artistry. Lasting throughout her freshman year at Taylor, the phrase has gained new meaning — not only for Postma’s professional goals, but through her personal life and senior project as well. 

“At first, I thought I was going to do something like loneliness or, like, the act of being alone,” Postma said. “But another thing I was playing around with was how people express themselves, because that was something I was just kind of thinking about.”

Yet while the collection started with images featuring gothic makeup looks and cigarettes, Postma quickly realized that understanding her own self-expression required taking a deeper look at her personal life.

The result was “Pressure” — the third piece of Postma’s collection and a representation of the struggle many high schoolers face as they consider their future. An image of a girl standing in the darkness, the surrounding eyes of onlookers becoming a symbol for the figurative pressure Postma felt about choosing a college and figuring out what she wanted to pursue for her career.

What had started as a look into the behaviors and stylistic choices we make every day became more reflective — and not just in a metaphorical sense.

“It was vent art, basically,” Postma said. “And that was really helpful and healthy for me. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is actually something that I can implement into my art and this is something that is important to me and for others to learn.’”

Yet after creating her next piece, which featured the literal reflection of her hand drawing out a mirror, Postma’s series became more intentional. Looking at the rest of the collection, it’s easy to see the progression that took place — but perhaps even more importantly, it’s a theme that flows through Postma’s current classes as well.

Taking a photography course this semester, Postma had the opportunity to return to the theme of expression when assigned the task of taking pictures of people on the street.

The mini-series, consisting of four finished photos, depicts a street artist holding his own series of paintings, a man caught candidly taking out his earbuds as he listened to music, a woman in a stylized jean jacket and a food vendor showing off his culinary wares as the sun sets over the Grand Rapids’ cityscape.

“Everything you do is expressing yourself,” Postma said. “Whether or not it's very loud, or prominent or just, like, more quiet, it's like, it's in [your] behaviors. It's in your dress, no matter if you have a style or not. It's in the way you look at another person. It's in your art. And that can either be intentional through that art or it can just be through colors that you like that day.”

The theme of expression is also the reason she chose to switch majors. 

Looking from art education to art therapy, Postma realized her desire to teach others how to express themselves could be better realized in a less-academic environment, though her ideal client demographic of high schoolers has remained the same.

“Identity is a huge thing [to teenagers],” she continued. “And like, just figuring that out is really hard and I feel like art can help with that.”

Of course, identity is something Postma herself is still trying to figure out. 

After spending two years discovering the true meaning of self-expression, the challenges of knowing oneself and presenting that to others in a consistent way has continued to push her to consider her definition of the word. Yet the working definition isn’t so complicated in and of itself.

“My definition is just taking what you feel on the inside and bringing it outside,” Postma said. “And that was just kind of a click for me because I thought self expression was supposed to be this high and mighty thing that you had to do.”

Instead, she found just the opposite. It’s the vent art. The reflections. The panic that comes from deep within and the behaviors we show on the outside. 

It’s the earbuds blasting the latest Olivia Barton song and the Stranger Things skater style Postma chooses to present herself with. 

“I want [people] to see me through my art,” Postma said. “I think I want them to see someone who's trying to figure stuff out.” 

And at the end of the day, that’s all self-expression really is. Showing the world who you are — and recognizing we’re all still figuring that out.