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By: Scott Cline on April 11th, 2017

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Meet 2 Art College Grads Who Make Art That Matters

Students come to an art college to perfect their craft, by learning the latest techniques and using the most innovative tools. They also come to study with some of the most accomplished professionals in their fields, and to make connections with alumni and local industry leaders that will help them establish stable and successful careers.

But many art college students — like Aaron De La Cruz and Patrick Campbell — are driven by even more global goals. They want to make the world a better place and use their art to do it. They want to make a difference with their art.

Here are their stories:

Data Becomes Art

To look at Aaron De La Cruz’s intricate networks of bold, intersecting, and parallel lines punctuated by curving nodes — the trademark features of his work — is to ponder the meticulous planning and measurement that must surely go into their creation.

You would be mistaken. De La Cruz confronts his canvases fresh. Those curved marks represent “the feeling you have when you’re letting go of fear,” he says.

(Watch his steady hand at work here.)

De La Cruz holds a BFA in illustration from California College of the Arts. His signature approach has graced everything from hotel walls to Levi’s. It had a particularly meaningful impact in 2013 when he used it to help meld art, science, and activism as part of the Free the Data project.

Free the Data is a consortium of scientists, clinicians, and advocates who promote the sharing of genetic information to help target mutations that cause hereditary conditions like breast and ovarian cancer. The group pushes back against the notion that such information should be guarded in proprietary databases.

For his project, De La Cruz collaborated with a scientist, a filmmaker, and 11 people who carry the BRCA mutation, which can indicate a higher risk of cancer. Under the guidance of scientist Martin Krzywinski, De La Cruz created an image of a genome as a dizzying maze of endless complexity. He carefully placed circles to notate the location of each participant's mutation. Then De La Cruz helped each participant mix their own personalized color and use it to fill in their mutation circle.

“This work will be, as far as I know, the first human annotation of mutations in the human genome by humans whose genomes have the mutations. That's quite a team!” wrote Krzywinski.

The work hit close to home for De La Cruz.

“Being that my mother and godmother both had cancer, I felt a necessity to take part of this project,” he wrote on his website.

Capturing a Community’s Anger

In 2014, the week a grand jury decided not to indict a New York City police officer for the choking death of Eric Garner, an image of an American flag went viral online. Embedded in the red stripes of the flag were bodies hanging from nooses. The painting’s name: The New Age of Slavery.

Describing his motivation, artist Patrick Campbell wrote: “I was tired of the deaths of one ethnicity, especially coming from a people who are supposed to protect us from crime and keep us safe.”

Campbell graduated from California College of the Arts with a BFA in illustration.

The painting was a draining emotional effort for Campbell. Driven by anger, he had to stop for three days halfway through because what he drew hurt him, he told an interviewer. When the piece was finally finished, Campbell wept.

“I stood back and said ‘What have I done?’ and I cried,” he said. “I was blown away and was in awe.”

The New Age of Slavery resonated with viewers online as they grappled with the death of Garner and several other black men in a wave of high-profile, police incidents throughout the country. Upon seeing it, one person wrote, “my breath caught in my throat and I found myself unable to tear my gaze away from it.”

Due to its cultural impact, the piece is now in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

(Read more about Campbell’s life — including how he overcame a teenage stroke and learned to draw with his left hand — here.)

Do You Want to Make an Impact with Your Art?

What drives you to make art? How do you want your art to make a difference in the world? Start the discussion in the comments section below.

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About Scott Cline

Dr. Scott Cline is vice president of enrollment at California College of the Arts, where he leads the financial aid and undergraduate admissions offices. He has worked at CCA for over six years, previously as director and associate director of financial aid.

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