Language through art: CIA students organize, present their own show

A group of 27 Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) students are examining the art of language in an upcoming student show that they have organized, collaborated on, and created the works for “Watch Our Language,” a multidisciplinary exhibit that opens on Saturday, April 16 at the Cleveland Public Library’s Brett Memorial Hall.

I Once Opened My Heart by Painting, and Sculpture and Expanded Media junior Crystal Miller, acrylic and glitter on canvasThe exhibit is meant to explore the individual  perceptions of the many examples of language.

“It’s a play on ‘watch your language,’ or ‘watch your mouth,’” says Thomas Smith, a CIA double major in painting and printmaking. “Our generation tends to push back against cultural norms and this is our view on “we are here, we are present, and we’re not afraid to say what we want to say.”

The show is the capstone project in the Role of Artist as Producer class, taught by Amber Kempthorn and Jessica Pinsky, and features the works of students in their junior years who are  studying drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture + expanded media. The group collaborated to put the show together and learn how to work as professional artists.


The works examine diverse concepts of communication, like physical touch, body language, sign language, emotional expression, and written language.

Smith says the messages, in various media, are just as diverse.

“We have moments that are funny, sad, serious at times, and even some that are satirical in nature,” he explains. “Most of us identify with the LGBTQ community, and that is summed up in our art as well.”

Smith says his own work is about being dyslexic—with his own handwriting on canvas.

Figurative Drawing Session by Sculpture and Expended Media junior Ryan Kreitzer, wood and metal and eraser


The 27 students worked in teams on every aspect of putting the show together. The teams focused on are install/deinstall, multimedia, venue, curation, marketing, and didactics.

Smith is on the marketing team and is in charge of engaging with the public and social media. “It’s a very different experience for all of us,” he says, adding that, as a double major, he’s used to new experiences. “I’m exploring a wide variety of things, dipping my fingers in multiple departments.”

Smith says the entire group has learned a lot from the experience. “We are so pumped because no one has ever done anything like this,” he says. “None of us have ever put on a group show of the scale before and there’s a lot of moving parts. One of the words that we especially had to learn was ‘care’—caring for one another and being understanding—trying to make sure that everyone’s voices were heard.

“Watch Our Language” opens on Saturday, April 16 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., at Cleveland Public Library Main Branch, Brett Memorial Hall, 325 Superior Ave. and runs through Monday, April 25. The show is free and open to the public.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.