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PROVO — Approaching the exhibit “In a World Full of Little People,” you may notice that your perspective is suddenly the one that is challenged. But others may be validated and empowered by the images hung at just under 4 feet tall.
The collection exhibited at the Harold B. Lee Library’s Gallery on Five is the brainchild of Michelle Stevens, a 22-year-old graphic design major at Brigham Young University. Stevens created the 20 modern, graphic and abstract pieces to represent a range of emotions. For the exhibit, 19 of those pieces are hung at her eye level — she was born with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia — with just one hanging at typical museum height.
The unusual hanging creates visual dissonance in a way that invites viewers to question the ways that the world overlooks needs like those of little people. Stevens told BYU that in museums, she frequently is left unable to get everything she can out of a piece because they are hung above her head.
Stevens created the pieces throughout her college career as she prepared for the graphic design program and explored various principles. Her artistic voice is clear throughout them, though, according to Roland Thompson, an adjunct design faculty member.
“They’re supposed to illustrate my creative process and the way I think rather than my skills as a designer, which I am still honing,” Stevens said. “I decided to display them in a nontraditional way to give some background on something that has influenced my life, as well as my artwork, and changed the way I think and view the world.”
She describes herself as a deliberate and practical artist with a creative process that follows suit.
“My creative process can vary depending on what type of project I am doing and why. I usually get an idea in my head, and it stays there until I get it out on paper or canvas or what-have-you,” she said. “Sometimes it turns out about like I thought, sometimes worse, sometimes better! It’s always kind of an adventure to find out. I am definitely a form follows function kind of person, so there’s usually some kind of logic to what I’m doing, as well as some emotion.”
About a year away from completing school, Stevens is still learning and growing with each class. But she has figured out that being honest with oneself can help produce more honest, vulnerable, and meaningful art.
“I don’t have to make art, and for a long time, I didn’t because I was afraid to. I didn’t want to put it out there and risk showing others something I care so deeply about and work really hard at, but I’m glad I finally did,” she said. “I chose to do it because I love it. And that’s part of what makes it special to me, is I know that I have the choice of letting the world see who I really am and what I do, or to hide it away and do something with fewer risks.
"Art making is important because, I think, in a lot of ways it gives people hope, at least it does for me. It makes the things I’m experiencing and going through, whether good or bad, worth it because either way, it can create something beautiful that I’m grateful for. And without imagination and creativity, I think life would be too boring.”
See the exhibit, “In a World Full of Little People” through April 27 at the Harold B. Lee Library’s Gallery on Five. More of Stevens’ work will be displayed at the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU in May. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram or read her blog at littlelittlemichelle.blogspot.com