Nashville’s Frist Art Museum opened a Teens Take the Frist! exhibit showcasing local student art at the end of June. Of the over 180 artists featured, 27 were students from Williamson County. 

This is the Frist’s third year of hosting the competition, which encourages students aged 13 to 19 to participate in artistic expression. In addition to being featured in the in-person gallery, 50 pieces are also in an online gallery.

Many of the pieces, such as Sarah Cai’s piece "Grandmother" were inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic

“My grandmother lives in a nursing home in China, and especially with COVID-19, she didn’t really have contact with people,” Cai, a rising junior at Brentwood High School, explained. “I really wanted to give something to her, so I started looking through pictures and just finding pictures where she was doing things that made her happy.”

In the graphite and colored pencil drawing, Cai’s grandmother is shown climbing stairs, cooking, smiling and walking in the city. 

It’s no surprise that Cai’s piece was chosen, given the close attention to detail throughout the drawing. From the wrinkles on her grandmother’s face to the print on her coat, the graphite allows for a striking level of detail. The red highlights, symbolizing good luck, add a subtler, personal touch. 

“When people see this piece, I hope people recognize someone’s life,” Cai said. “I hope they don’t take the daily tasks for granted because a lot of people are alone. Some people don’t realize the relationships they have.”

Lauren Cheung, a rising junior at Franklin High School, submitted a highlighter and ink drawing titled “The Pain We Hold Inside.” 

The online gallery caption reads, “Sometimes we must express the painful emotions in order to let them go. This drawing represents that pain, yet also the beauty that follows after.”

Cheung added that her inspiration came from people hiding their true selves, particularly with online images. 

“Especially in this day and age with technology and social media, we portray a very unrealistic version of ourselves,” she said. “I wanted to spread a message to tell people that they’re not alone.”

Cheung also commented on her intentional choice of a unique medium, saying that highlighter and pen added to the simplicity and accessibility of the drawing. 

“If you think about it, a ballpoint pen, a highlighter, those are things that everyone uses, so it makes [the drawing] more real.”

Ashley Nealon, a student at Father Ryan High School, submitted a watercolor piece called “Koi Fish,” portraying a simple, yet vibrant fish swimming against a solid black background. 

Nealon noted that the pandemic has given her more time to explore her art, seek inspiration and work on new ideas. 

“Art is a really awesome way to express yourself and your thoughts, and it doesn’t always have to be perfect because nothing is perfect,” Nealon said. 

The exhibit is available to view online at or at the Frist Art Museum until Sept. 5.

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