Phs Student Pursues Art Career

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For Payson High School art teacher George Conley, it's what teaching is all about.

For senior Linnea Siniaho, it's her future.

Siniaho, an advanced art student who has taken classes from Conley for four straight years, has been accepted to the Collins College School of Design and Technology in Tempe.

Each year, Conley says, a few of his students decide to pursue a career in art. This year, in addition to Siniaho, senior Eric Haddad has been accepted by the Phoenix Art Institute and senior Rachelle McGee is going to major in art education at Paradise Valley Community College and Northern Arizona University.

"It's neat to see kids who know what they want to do when they graduate," Conley said. "I didn't go back to college to get my teaching degree until I was 30."

One of the advantages today's students have is an ever-expanding range of career opportunities in the art world.

"You don't have to be a fine artist who paints oils anymore," Conley said. "Now, as long as you're creative and have some basic skills, you can have a career in art where you sit at a computer. You can do computer animation, website design. Each year somebody from the art institute comes and talks to us, and it seems like every year, they've added a new career I haven't heard of."

Haddad hopes to one day design video games, while Siniaho wants to go into animation.

"I could go into movie animation with a company like Dreamworks, or I'm also interested in a fairly new area called forensic animation," she said. "I've seen it twice now, where they recreate a crime scene by animating it to help solve the crime.

"The problem with that is that I would have to go to school four more years to get a degree in forensics. That would mean taking a lot of biology, but I could do it," she said with an air of quiet confidence.

She gives Conley a lot of credit for her development as an artist, and it's clear from their conversation that they have developed an easy rapport over the four years they've been together.

"He's been very supportive sometimes," she said, rolling her eyes.

"It's called constructive criticism," Conley responded with a sly grin. "Actually, she had the talent and then she worked very hard to improve over the years."

While Siniaho is a well-rounded student who is involved in other activities, including serving as drum major for the marching band, art is her first love.

"Art lets me be creative," Siniaho said. "It's an outlet for me."

Conley hopes future students will see what students like Siniaho have accomplished and give his beginning class a shot.

"Most people don't realize they can learn art," he said. "I have eighth-graders come in here and say they don't want to take art because they can't draw. I say take it, and I will teach you to draw."

Siniaho, who moved to Payson six years ago from the Valley, agrees.

"If you're the least bit interested, you need to pursue it," she said. "You're not going to be born with (everything you need to know)."

Conley makes sure his advanced students are apprised of what they need to know to pursue a career in art.

"We try to show the kids what's out there," he said. "What schools are out there and how to contact them, what scholarships are out there and how to apply for them."

And while a total of three students pursuing an art career may not seem like a lot, consider this: over one-third of the eight seniors in Conley's advanced art class have chosen to pursue degrees in the field.

That's what teaching is all about.

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