Alexis Hillman will walk across the stage of the Prior Center Saturday with a Bachelors Degree in Art and the confidence to call herself an artist.

The talented Fort Blackmore native admits she did not always have that confidence, but four years of intensive study in art and the basics of a liberal arts degree with a heavy emphasis in undergraduate research changed that mindset. Several tubes of paint, dozens of brushes, other tools of the trade, and several art shows later, Hillman is ready for what comes next.

“For as long as I can remember, art has been important to me,” the 22-year-old said. “I remember winning a competition at the museum in Big Stone Gap when I was 11. Getting recognition locally taught me that my abilities were worth something.”

Hillman tried to find different avenues to study for careers, but she kept coming back to art. She felt it was her calling.

“When I came to UVa-Wise, I wondered if I could even call myself an artist,” she added. “It seemed like such a bold title to bestow on yourself without being established. Now I know that being an artist is about being in a constant pursuit of creativity, growing and learning.”

Hillman learned that there is never a plateau or pedestal that one can reach to earn the title of artist.

“For me, the term ‘artist’ means someone who has an ever growing relationship with creating art. So yes, I’m an artist.”

Hillman, like nearly 200 students on campus, participated in an undergraduate research project. She tackled the topic of “The Self-Portrait: An Exploration of Process.” She spent countless hours on her project before realizing that her art was her research.

“As I started my research, I got a bad feeling of self doubt and worry,” she said. “It really held me back. I finally decided to forget that fear and push on and see what happened.”

What happened was a series of self-portraits of Hillman in different styles and themes. She also looked at her work and realized that her work was mimicking some of the artists’ work that she learned about in art history class. The realization left her feeling connected to those artists in many ways. One portrait, she thought, had mimicked Edward Munch while another one seemed to mimic Matisse.

“It made me more aware of how I might be coming across to people,” she said.

She decided to use Feldman’s Method of Critique on her own work to note elements within the art work such as color, line, shape, texture, space, form, unity and balance.

“After performing Feldman’s Critique on my own work, I expected to find inconsistencies between the results and reality,” she said. “If this is so, the same could be assumed about what art history teaches about past works.”

Hillman posed the questions of how much can a viewer assume to know about an artist and his or her work without knowing the artist’s history, and are there limitations to what a viewer can presume to know when using Feldman’s Method of Critique.

The viewers’ critique of her self-portraits revealed that they did not completely match her own views on her work.

“The viewer doesn’t have the same relationship with an art work as the artist who created it,” she said. “Each viewer brings a different perspective so no critique can be fully objective.”

Her research showed that knowledge of an artist’s background and concept would always be useful for those whishing to interpret a work of art. She also found that her research led to more questions that answers.

“Does the artist make the rules for a work of art or does the viewer possess the power to alter its meaning?” she said.

Hillman observed in her research that the artistic process is self-research.

She plans to work for a while to gain experience in the workplace, and she will refine her portfolio for graduate school in the future. She said her best times on campus took place in the Gilliam Center for the Arts as she learned who she is and what drives her.

“I’m unsure what concentration I wish to study in graduate school, so I want to spend some time learning what interests me outside of college,” she said. “UVa-Wise gave me the ability to earn a bachelor’s degree at a young age, so I am able to take my time now and discover what I really want.”