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Artist of the Week Catherine Wang ʼ23 on Life as Inspiration

15 mins read
Mairo Yamano // The Phoenix

Catherine Wang ʼ23 finds inspiration everywhere and in everything. In our interview, she expressed that everyday life often becomes part of her writing, and the media she engages with is often the basis for her visual art. 

“For me … there’s this feeling that you have to view everything you do, and every experience, and everything around you, as something that can be turned into a memory that you can organize later … your writing ends up being suffused with it.”

Catherine’s primary artistic medium is digital art, and she takes inspiration from other artists when she draws. 

“I mostly just see other people’s words and I’m like, ‘oh, that would be cool if I could do something like that,’ and a lot of times, I can’t do something like that. But I might be able to do something similar … or something that has the same intent … even if it ends up coming out differently, in more of my own direction,” she said. 

Catherine has been an artist since she was young. While she uses visual art to relax, she uses writing to express herself. During our interview, Catherine mentioned that many creative writers have been writing since they were young; writing is something that stays and grows with the writer. 

“I feel like I’ve always been a writer … I’ve always been telling stories … I was a very overly imaginative child, so it was a good outlet for me just to get things down to paper, take the oftentimes unmanageable thoughts in my head and make them something more concrete. As far as drawing and painting, I feel like that comes from a very different place for me than writing … more of a pastime or a relaxation kind of thing.”

The origin of her visual artistic style is fan art, which is based off of a piece of fiction or media and is often derived from a character or other component in the fictional universe. 

“I started with wanting to draw fanart of games or shows or anime, which I feel is also [how] a lot of people get into visual art. [I also started] seeing a lot of artists on the internet and being like, ‘Oh, I’d like to emulate that.’”

As she engages artistically with the media around her, Catherine creates art that reconstructs and reimagines the media, creating her own piece from someone else’s art. Though she no longer engages as often in music composition, as her time to pursue creative outlets is limited, Catherine’s music also adopts from other artists’ work.  

“When it comes to art and music, the things I do I feel like are inherently derivatory. It’s derivative and transformative in the sense that like, I do fanart or I’ll do remixes of songs that exist or covers of songs that exist. I write fanfiction, also … that’s also transformative or derivatory of existing work.”

As a visual artist, Catherine hopes that the reaction to her art will be a visual appreciation of the art itself. In her writing, she aspires to convey feelings that people reading her original work will be able to connect with, no matter the topic discussed. 

“Ideally, I want it [the art] to be comforting, even if the subject matter is not. When I express something in my writing, whether it’s maybe something difficult, or something emotional, or something dramatic, I hope that the people who read it come away with a sense of ‘there is a sort of universality to this feeling,’ or there’s a way that this feeling can be expressed by someone else. Therefore this feeling has validity to it … or there’s a shared ‘I’m not alone’ kind of experience with it. [It] makes me happiest when people receive my work that way.”

Catherine finds that she writes best when she knows there will be someone to see it, whether that be people on the internet or her creative writing workshop classmates. Because academic life at Swat isn’t conducive to a significant amount of free time, a creative writing class allows Catherine to work writing into her life in college, and provides incentive to produce a piece of more polished work. 

“I think if I just have some kind of deadline, even if it’s a soft deadline, it’s just better for me in terms of motivation. Because otherwise I could work on something for an infinite amount of time and never think ‘okay, it’s finished now.’ … So it’s really helpful to tell myself that I’m going to write this much a week … because there’s another group of people that’s going to read it at this time, and it’s really motivating to know that.”

Because she can be inspired at any time, Catherine doesn’t just sit down to write. Instead, she does it while she’s going about her day — whenever an idea hits — typing on her phone as she walks across campus. 

“There’s a thing where people always get ideas in the shower, right? But I take really long showers. So by the time I get out, I usually forget them. So I’ve started doing this thing where I put my phone in a ziploc bag and just have it in my shower caddy. So that if I have an idea I can just jot it down on my notes doc. And this is, unironically, how I think I’ve gotten a lot of my best writing done.”

On campus, Catherine is a computer science and linguistic double major. She’s been dabbling in video game design as a way to combine her academic interests with art, as she’s planning to keep art as a hobby once she graduates. This semester, Catherine is writing a thesis, but is also taking Painting 1 as a way to keep art in her life as senior year academics pile up. 

“I don’t want to monetize my hobby, because I [don’t] want to tie it to a source of stress. I think I would have a hard time, if I published writing, not taking the ups and downs of my career as a personal thing because I think art can be something, if we spent a lot of time on it, we have a really [deep] connection to it. So critiques of it, I think, are hard not to take personally.”

Catherine mentioned a quote she read years ago, and though she couldn’t remember the exact wording, it went a little something like this: “If you’re friends with a writer, know that you will at some point be immortalized in a work of fiction.” 

Maybe, one day, even after she departs to continue her journey through art and through life, Catherine’s characters will live in her memories of Swarthmore — in late night conversations and friends made and lost. 


melons 

By Catherine Wang

my mother knows how to pick a good melon. i don’t. she tried to teach me time after time after time: she’d chat up the old farmer between tangy smacks of the rinds while i stood in the shade of the roadside magnolias trying not to be devoured by mosquitoes. my mother haggles with the farmer while the cicadas sing. i try not to move because sweat is pooling in the bottom of my sandals and the humidity is making my skin feel like month-old candy. summer in shanghai is a watermelon: big and sticky and overbearing and ripe, neatly wrapped up in something heavy and cool to the touch. i got my driver’s license in the summer. the first place i ever drove to was the street corner where the watermelon hawkers sit. it’s a shame not to buy good melons when they’re in season, my mother says. summer is for eating melons and nothing else. why waste our bellies on other fruit when the melons are in season and they demand our attention like a crowd of plump schoolchildren. we have bowls of the cubed ruby flesh in the refrigerator already but there is always room for more. my mother goes down to the field with the farmer. she smacks the watermelons and they ring like they are full of more than their flesh and their blood, like any more and they will burst at their seams and spill out all those opulent dreams, that decadent delight that lives only in the summertime. these are the precious things we have, she says. juicy melons to fend off the heat.

under the cloudless sky we wrap the prime melons in plastic trash bags and carry them to our car. i get in the driver’s seat for the second time ever and turn the wheel and think about the lights and the signs and all the little things on the road that i have learned to look carefully at. my mother talks at me on the drive home. i put on pop music and she talks over it. she turns to me and says see, a good melon sounds full, not hollow. they are rotund and not thin, those are the good ones, like little fat pearls of gold. she tells me to look for the webbing on the side and to ignore the ones that are too brightly colored. i tell her they all look the same. she tells me i simply haven’t learned to look carefully. i think about that when we cut them open and the flesh is red and raw and ripe and she says see, why settle for anything less? the answer is there in the bowl in front of you. the red liquid drips at the end of the knife and into the bowl and tastes of mornings and shade and the hot sticky thing that is summer. i think that i am not the daughter who knows how to pick the ripe watermelon. i am the daughter who learned to drive and drove to the end of the road that could take me anywhere. only to find upon returning home that i am still the daughter who does not know how to pick the ripe watermelon, whose feet have never sunk into the mud of the fields. i pull the car over at the street corner because i have learned, somehow, even though the steering wheel still feels too big in my hands. my mother tells me to stay in the shade and keep my sandals clean. she walks into the sweltering sun and she picks the melon for me and we bring it home and we cut it open and it tastes like summer and a forgotten song. the song of the cicadas and of the woman who knew how to pick a good melon.

04.26.2022

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