In hindsight, Elizabeth Shortt says, the signs were clear. There was the fateful day a third grade teacher in Nottawa, Canada, took her aside and said, in no uncertain terms, that she must become an artist. Then there was the high school aptitude test. “Everybody else got a profession,” Shortt says. “Mine came back ‘Adventurer.’ ”
Talent and an adventurous spirit are, at the least, prerequisites for life as a successful artist. And Shortt, who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting, seems to have plenty of both. In the past year, her installations and large-scale figurative paintings have appeared in six shows. This spring, for the third consecutive year, she received a grant from the Three Arts Scholarship Fund. And this fall, she begins a new adventure—working on a master’s degree at the Edinburgh College of Art and Design in Scotland.
Pretty encouraging stuff, not that Shortt needs much encouragement. She’s painted and drawn since kindergarten. And being an artist suits her temperament. “I am not meant to be a doctor or anything like that,” she says. “I think it’s almost more of a personality trait than anything.”
But anyone looking to put an easy, otherworldly artist stereotype on Shortt should think again. “I’m really competitive,” she says. “If you aren’t competitive or have imagination about future goals, you won’t improve.”
The fuel that fires Shortt’s imagination can come from anywhere. Most recently, she’s been fascinated with the idea of energy, tempered with a bit of Eastern philosophy. “That’s why I’m glad I didn’t wind up at an art school—I really learned to appreciate all of the other classes I had to take at Xavier,” she says. “In the case of energy, I’m interested in the science of it—how entropy works on the level of basic science and how you can relate that to communities of people. Societies with the most energy are often the least stable. Things in nature are apt to become more chaotic the more energy they have. And I also relate it to balance and harmony, which is a lot of what Buddhists and Confucianists believe.”
Shortt’s own energies aren’t focused entirely on the visual arts. She’s also a classical pianist, graduating two hours short of a minor in music, and her most recent installation combined drawings and sound. “I think there are more connections between not only painting and music but between all disciplines that people don’t often think about,” she says. “I think that’s also what a liberal arts education is supposed to do: focus on the relationship between the different disciplines.”
Where all this will lead, not even Shortt can imagine, at least not yet. Planning too much, after all, would spoil the adventure. “That’s what I’m doing,” she says. “I’m adventuring.”