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Simon’s art a testimony to braving the storm

Female student in yellow sweater stands in front of brick wall
Alison Simon, a fifth-year senior, stands next to her artwork displayed in Dean Sargeant's office.

Lynn Sargeant has been working on updating the art in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences office. Located on her back wall are two new pieces of art, creating an eye-catching backdrop to the many Zoom meetings she holds and an opportunity to highlight the work of students in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. These pieces of art were created by Alison Simon, a fifth-year senior in the School of Design, the School of Communication and Journalism and the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Simon, set to be graduating this Spring, is studying Agricultural Communication with minors in Communication Studies and Studio Art with an emphasis in painting. Simon grew up on a farm outside of Seneca. She said her experiences on the farm, including working with her horses and dad, bled into her studies and art.

Painting showing a grey storm cloud over an open prairie

One of Simon’s pieces, pictured here, includes these experiences. Her paintings are often about memories and perseverance. She describes the passion behind the piece titled, “All Storms Pass.” “Honestly, there was a lot behind it when I initially started this painting. I was thinking of the loneliness of being out in the middle of the range,” Simon explained. “I also have a thing for storms, especially the prairie storms where you can see those big, heavy clouds coming through.”

Simon had experienced significant “storms” in her life that caused her to experience loneliness and influenced her artwork. In 2012, she received a kidney transplant from her dad and in 2016 was diagnosed with stage 4 Burkitt lymphoma and leukemia. “Art was a big part of my cancer treatment,” explained Simon. “I painted a lot during that time thanks to the help of the art therapist [at Sanford hospital], who at the time was a recent SDSU alumni.”

When reflecting on the influence of her own personal experiences and the storm depicted in her artwork, she said, “I would say the core message is that lonely feeling ... being out in the middle of nowhere and then there is a storm coming or a storm has already passed, depending on how you look at it.” While loneliness is part of the theme for this particular piece, it is just as much about perseverance and overcoming, something that many, including Simon, can feel connected to. As of Jan. 20, 2021, Simon has been cancer-free for five years.

Faculty in the School of Design have had their influence on Simon’s work as well. “My professors have done a really good job of pushing me to be more critical with my art and more patient,” she stated. Her work has evolved through feedback from faculty, critical self-reflection, and through experiential opportunities offered in the School of Design. One of those opportunities, the 2020 Stuart Artist in Residence, Lori Larusso, had inspired Simon to reflect on her art and try new techniques. “She was really good about giving me a few pointers, which is really valuable.”

As a student in two different colleges with several minors, many would typically look at Simon’s studies as a unique mix. While her original choice to become an Agricultural Communication major was highly influenced by her experience in FFA and passion for educating others about agriculture, Simon did not originally think she would have a Studio Art minor. After adding minors in Communication Studies and Studio Art, she was able to see the unique intersection of all of her studies. “Something that has been a big passion of mine has been getting more confident in those communication skills so I can be that bridge to better educate people who want to know more about something that has been a huge part of my life,” said Simon. “And in a similar way, I think my art does that too, whether it is depictions of places that have taught me the things I have learned about life, hard work or work ethic.”

Painting of the eyes of a girl peering through rows of color
Simon's oil painting, "2020 Self-Portrait" 

Seeing her work in the dean’s office and knowing it has been viewed by individuals across the University and Brookings community has been an impactful experience. She explained, “It is a huge honor to know that it is so well-received and well-loved by people who find it really interesting.” Simon hopes that other students will pursue their creative interests, whether it is a full major or minor or taking a few classes to try something new. “Don't be afraid to do stuff that is risky or scares you,” said Simon.

“I hope my story pushes the theme that you do not have to be an artist by trade or by career to be a successful artist ... you can get recognition for your work whether you have a big name or sell thousands of dollars for your work or if you just make things that make you happy.”

After graduating in May, Simon hopes to pursue a communications-related career, whether it be in agriculture or even other interests, such as health-focused fields. One thing is certain, she will continue using her unique experiences to influence and shape her art.