They’ve been competing against each other since elementary school.
Artists Maggie George and George Bennett have developed their talents by trying to one-up the other’s latest gem.
“I’m gonna always feel inadequate if I don’t do something better,” George said. “We’ve been at it for awhile.”
Seniors at Starkville High School, George and Bennett have spent the past three-plus years beating up each other in the studio to prepare for national and international competitions.
Like student athletes trying to impress college scouts during their senior year, art students aim to have their best performance at competition, a proving ground for colleges that offer thousands of dollars in scholarships each year.
Bennett and George hope to score scholarships to the Savannah College of Art and Design as finalists in the 2-D competition of the SCAD Challenge, the first international competition they’ve entered. They’re two of 75 students chosen from more than 400 entries and will learn later this month if they’ve earned a chunk of the $245,000 of scholarships that will be awarded.
“Money would be nice,” George said. “Most schools I want to go to are pricey.”
Bennett entered a piece titled “Deliver Us,” a chalk drawing of a friend in a Hebrew prayer shawl. George submitted “Duality,” a chalk drawing of two racially diverse women.
While George is leaning toward attending George Washington University or another school in the northeast, Bennett said SCAD is at the top of his list.
“Its nickname is Little Pixar,” Bennett said. “And I want to work in their studios … doing anything. I feel like what they produce as movies is just like what we do in here (at Starkville High).”
They each consider their SCAD Challenge entry to be among their best work, which comes at a critical time as they churn out multiple pieces for other competitions. George and Bennett have completed portfolios for the YoungArts visual arts competition sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. They’re aiming to make the top 20 in the southeast region, which would net a trip to Miami, Fla., and Washington D.C. A top finisher in the Congressional Art Competition, George’s “Reflections of my Grandmother” is on display in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“It’s the best award you can receive while you’re in high school,” George said. “Getting our portfolios ready for NFAA took a lot of sleepless nights.”
Bennett and George have spent countless nights in the “white house” — Starkville High’s art department on Yellow Jacket Drive — perfecting their craft. They’ve had plenty of inspiration, too, surrounded by work from former Starkville standouts who have moved on to college. Art instructor Andrew Lark, who has taught at Starkville since 1997, said that in an average year, Starkville seniors earn up to $600,000 in art scholarships.
Lark keeps students’ drawings from the early ’90s in a drawer to make the distinction between “being in art class” and “being an artist” to each wave of new students. As much as Lark has helped nurture creativity at Starkville High, he’s molded resilient and dedicated artists through a tough, borderline cynical method of challenging students to improve their work.
“In here, they hear a lot of words like ‘no’ and ‘do it over; it’s wrong,'” Lark said.
The blunt method has rubbed off on George and Bennett, who hold no punches when offering sharp critiques of each other’s work. Bennett said he scrapped a piece that was nearly complete after George pointed out flaws in technique and told him he could do better.
“You can’t be afraid to let someone know because it hurts us in the end,” George said. “It’ll get us in a rut and we won’t get better. I know what he can do, and he knows what I can do. We’ve watched each other grow. We feel we owe it to each other to be honest.”
George found her zone a year or two before Bennett, completing drawings and photographic art work at a quicker and more efficient rate. Lark said George’s leap came after she fully invested herself in her work. As George became happier with her results, Bennett became motivated by her improved technique. Bennett credits George for helping get over his junior year slump and helping him progress from drawing “hairy lines and dinosaurs.”
“I had a piece that was drowning me and causing me so much conflict,” Bennett said. “When I finally finished it, I couldn’t help but feel like I could have done it in two days. I watch how fast she progresses and I feel like I can get the same results if I watch her.”
Now, underclassmen are taking their cues from George and Bennett.
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