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From Current Events To Canvas: This Teenage Prodigy Is Painting For Change

Culture

She may be a teenager, but Autumn de Forest has already accomplished more than most hope to do in a lifetime.


The 15-year old artistic prodigy has not only sold millions of dollars in artwork, but she is also the youngest artist ever appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the Turnaround Arts program. De Forest has also been featured on almost every morning and daytime television show imaginable, lectured for top universities and corporations, and even had a personal meeting with Pope Francis, in which she gifted him a piece of her art.

“I am always studying art, whether it's looking for ideas, going to museums, or traveling," says de Forest. “Whatever I can get my hands on, I try to learn from. I realized [early on] I wanted to create all different kinds of [artistic] styles. I didn't want to marry one."

The Freshman at Odyssey Charter High School in Las Vegas is as imaginative as she is sophisticated. Quick-witted and thoughtful, de Forest is truly learning-obsessed, which is reflected in her multifaceted array of work that channels styles that range from impressionism to pop art. De Forest is also inherently socially conscious and has worked with a variety of social organizations including The Red Cross and Habitat For Humanity, to name a few.

“Before I ever sold a painting, I knew I wanted to help people with my artwork," says de Forest, whose work has benefited such causes as the Haiti relief fund, the Japanese Tsunami, Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Bombing. “I didn't think it was right to just create paintings and sell them. I wanted to sell them for people who needed help."

Autumn de Forest

With a talent that has been compared to the likes of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, it is easy to see that de Forest has a taste level beyond her years. “I started painting in my late 5s and 6s," says de Forest with a laugh. “I saw my father sanding some wood and asked him if I could mess around. I picked up the paintbrush and started creating. I was just having fun and expressing myself and my dad said [my first piece] looked like a [Mark] Rothko. I didn't know who that was."

It wasn't long after that, that de Forest's mother came home one day with a number of canvases and high quality paints in the hopes of further inspiring her daughter's creativity. And inspire she did.

Autumn de Forest "Grasp"

“I wanted to learn more about the art world so I went to the bookstore and found some books on different artists [and saw pieces] like Dali's Persistence of Memory," says de Forest. "I was mesmerized by art. I didn't even know that you could paint like that. I realized that painting was my career and it's what I wanted to do."

The work that de Forest began creating was inspired indeed. With an inclusive approach to creation that incorporates simplicity and bold colors, impressionistic imagery, and awe-inspiring abstracts, each Autumn de Forest piece emits a feeling of worldliness and depth of thought. To see the evolution of de Forest's work over the last decade, visit her digital gallery, which chronicles it by each year of her life.

“Creating the piece is the easy part," says de Forest, of her artistic inspiration. “A lot of my paintings come from ideas that I think would look good on canvas. I will look at an artist for inspiration and then mix it with a problem of today to create a piece that not only appeals to the artwork but also to people in need. I want to make it more powerful than a pretty picture."

As she continued imagining more artwork, de Forest says she was asked about the inspiration behind it by friends and family, and thus began exploring more the “why" of her process. From there she realized that she was not only drawn to creation, but also telling stories. “I had a new passion talking about my artwork, giving it a meaning not just to me," she says. “After that day, each painting had a story."

Another passion that emerged was giving back. De Forest tells SWAAY that she has always felt a deep desire to help others, and that she began to incorporate that into her work by studying the news, specifically those devastating world events that affect so many. She began creating pieces that interpreted and ultimately, fiscally benefited the victims of unexpected tragedy.

de Forest with Pope Francis in Rome

“When I was six years old I saw on the news that there was an earthquake in Haiti," says de Forest. “They took a camera and panned over the destruction and I realized that I have to do a piece for all of those people who have lost so much; their loved ones, and everything they had."

For de Forest it is important not just to give donations but to actually imbue her work with the emotions of what others are going through. She is currently working on a series about the war in Aleppo inspired by this haunting image of a young boy in an emergency truck. “I'm currently working on a series concerning problems in the world," says de Forest. “I try to think 'if I were in this person's situation, how would I feel? Then I think how to tell that story through color and the strokes of my paint brush."

De Forest also makes it a point to visit underfunded and underperforming schools across the country to “work with kids, paint with them, empower and inspire them." Additionally, she has begun creating her own nonprofit, which she hopes will benefit young artists in underprivileged schools, helping them create college savings accounts.

To be sure, one of the biggest coups of her young career was being honored with the Giuseppe Sciacca Award for Arts and Culture, which de Forest traveled to Rome to accept. During her time in Italy, de Forest was given the opportunity to present a "powerful yet simple" piece she titled “Resurrection" to Pope Francis. “He inspires me just being a person," she says. "He is so warm, loving, tolerant and accepting. He took the time to talk with me, bless me and the piece as well. It was probably my favorite memory of all time."

When it comes to her own creative process, de Forest says it's a surreal, almost stream-of-conscious experience. “I definitely get lost in it, especially if I have a new series that I'm working on," says de Forest. “I try to create all my pieces in different styles. I can do an abstract one month inspired by Picasso and my next idea could be inspired by Liechtenstein."

De Forest, who hopes to attend UCLA and study abnormal psychology when she's old enough of course, said the relationship between the brain and emotions has been currently inspiring some of her newest pieces. When asked if she has time for normal teenage activities, de Forest says she loves hanging out with friends and going to the mall. Of course, unlike her friends, she is also actively creating museum-quality artwork, and working to change the world through philanthropy. No big deal.

“I definitely would love to continue exhibiting and creating different artwork," says de Forest, regarding her future career. “As a female artist creating pieces that are sharing important messages in the world, it would be remarkable to continue this work."

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.