Graduating Senior Angel Kelly Shares Her Passion for Art Therapy

Angel Kelly BFA '21 has many passions and pursuits, and she won't put any of them on the sidelines. A fine arts major with a concentration in drawing, Kelly is also pursuing two minors: one in psychology and the other in Asian studies, with a concentration in Japanese. She plans to bring all of these interests and skills together to build a career in art therapy.

Finding Art Therapy: An Outlet and an Opportunity

Kelly draws on her personal experience with the healing impact of art exposure and incorporating creative practice into one's life. As a young adult, she used art and poetry to help her face and overcome challenges, so when she discovered the field of art therapy it felt like a perfect fit. "Growing up I didn't always have the easiest childhood, and art was my outlet," she explains. "I would draw every time I was stressed out, which just so happened to be a lot. Then, in eighth grade my creative writing teacher helped me get into poetry, which was a great outlet for me. I won awards in poetry slams, and I was so happy! That's when I like really understood that the arts could be therapeutic." she says. It was in college that she learned about the field of art therapy from a close family friend. As she uncovered more about art therapy and its applications, her mission became clear - to help others, especially children and teens, find their own healing though the visual arts.

As confident as she is in her current path, Kelly wasn't always so assured in her choice of study. As the first in her family to go to college, she felt limited to more traditional careers such as law and medicine. Art didn't feel like a career option for her. "Even though I love making art and creating things, I was stressed about the idea of just being an art major and not knowing what I would do with that professionally," she explained. Kelly has also had to counter concerned questions from friends and family who worried about the limits of an art degree. "Everybody kept drilling into my head this question of 'Oh you're an artist, what are you going to do with that?' There is this connotation that art is useless, and that nobody really needs it. People don't actually know how much work it is and how meaningful it can be," she says.

Golden Girl
Golden Girl
2020; Oil Paint and Mineral Spirits, 22in x 28in
Pirate Girl
2018; Charcoal and White Conte, 22in x 30in

Kelly works in a range of mediums. She says "every time I find another one, it becomes my new obsession." Right now, she is most interested in charcoal and oil painting and enjoys painting portraits primarily, with strong narrative undertones. "I like to imagine back stories for the portraits that I draw, based on their facial expression or the way that they're posed," she says. "I try to portray what's going on through the painting, especially in the face. I will also try to exaggerate how they are posed to make a story come across more clearly."

2019; Charcoal, 22in x 30in
Old Man
2018; Charcoal, 22in x 30in

Planning Her Own Path (to Asia and Back)

Kelly's interest in the Japanese language is relates to her passion for the visual arts. "I chose the minor in Asian studies with the concentration Japanese because, honestly, I love anime!" she explains. "Learning about the Japanese culture in general just genuinely makes me happy." She was studying the Japanese language on her own time before attending Wayne State and, upon learning that WSU offered the option, she decided to make this a formal track of study for a minor. She is also currently pursuing a self-taught course in the Korean language.

Kelly plans to visit Japan after graduation, with the hope that after attending graduate school and completing a certification process, she will be able to live there for a time, teaching English and immersing herself in the culture. Across Asia, there is a significant interest in art therapy, which Kelly sees as providing a unique opportunity to unite her interests in Asian studies, Japanese language, psychology, and art therapy. Long term, she plans to start a non-profit organization focused on art therapy.

Connecting on Campus

Kelly points to the opportunity that campus living provides for academic - and creative - success. Her initial choice of Wayne State was, in part, due to the proximity it provided to her family and the ability to support them when needed. However, living on campus has provided her with more control of her time, enabling her to dive into classwork without interruption. "Honestly, if I didn't live on campus I would have probably dropped out a while ago," she admits. "The stress from home and trying to get assignments done would be really difficult. Granted, my space on campus is small, but it gives me the space to actually create. This is a huge benefit for me. If I didn't live on campus, I wouldn't have that at all."

On campus, Kelly is an assistant in Housing, as well as in the Art and Art History Department, but it is her work as an Orientation Leader that most reflects her desire to be a therapist, bring resources to people, and channel her own experiences to help others. "Being an orientation leader genuine helps me fill that need to help," she explains. "When I first got here, I needed all the help in the world. But I was too anxious and too nervous to actually ask anybody, so I just suffered in silence. That is never good for a freshman who is already extremely anxious and is doing everything herself or himself."

Kelly's job as an Orientation Leader involves meeting with the major departments on campus including Housing, Admissions, Career Services, the Honors College, and the Student Center. She shares information with students about assistance and scholarships for which they may be eligible. She relishes her role as a connector and the ability to provide the kind of help she needed herself as a freshman. "I wanted to be a connector between students and the resources that are available to them," she says. "I've seen so many students in the same position as me, and they just don't know who to talk to. I try to get a feel for where they are, or where they're coming from, what they need. When I have students reach out to me regularly, it makes me happy because I know that I'm doing my job."

Kelly also volunteers at the Children's Center Detroit, which provides social services for families. She calls The Children's Center "one of my happy places." She adds, "I just love being able to help people in any way that I can feel - whether that is being an art therapist or just being at the Children's Center volunteering whenever I can. It helps me fulfill that need to help." Kelly will soon be assisting in developing an art program at the Children's Center. Kelly also volunteers with Hope House Detroit, another recreational non-profit for youth and the community. She painted a mural for them which she is planning to update soon.

Hope House Detroit Mural
Hope House Detroit Mural

Advice to Students

Today Kelly is taking full advantage of campus life, but that wasn't always the case. She explains that when she started at WSU, "everything was so up in the air. I was a freshman and doing everything myself, including paying for college. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a major and also survive my first year!" Her big piece of advice to freshman is to find help as soon as you need it. "One of my biggest suggestions for incoming students, whether it be freshman or transfer students is to ask questions. The worst that could happen is that somebody says no, or that you have the wrong department. I didn't ask for help, and I suffered for way too long because of that."

She also believes it is vital for students to get out and get involved with organizations and clubs. "Don't stay in your bubble. If I had stayed in my bubble, I would be nowhere near where I am right now. You'll find that a lot of people have way more in common with you than you might think. There're entire clubs out there just to meet people with shared interests: there's an anime club, there's a skateboard club, I think there are two planting and gardening clubs, there's even a squirrel-watching club and an anti-squirrel-watching club!"

Overall, Kelly has learned the essential value of networking. "I've made so many good connections and have had so many different experiences," she says. "Don't hide from people and opportunities." She concludes that, "A university is obviously to educate, but it is also about building connections with other people from other backgrounds. It is about being open minded and being open to new experiences. I feel like that's what being at a university is for."

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