NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —Rau for Art is the annual competition from M.S. Rau, that celebrates and encourages the next generation of artists. 2022 marks the tenth year the competition has taken place. Over a 150 high school students from six Louisiana parishes submitted their artwork.

Out of the many submissions, ten finalists are chosen to have their artwork displayed in M.S. Rau’s gallery, along with the priceless fine art M.S. Rau is known for.

Every year the committee selects a theme for the students to be inspired by. This year’s challenging theme was to use other forms of art, such as music and poetry to inspire visual art. Jaiden DeGeorge is a competition finalist that is very well-versed in Renaissance-period pieces and gothic styling. For the competition she submitted a large painting inspired by her own faith.

“It was one of the first times I used oil. It was the first time in two years that I experimented with color,” says DeGeorge.

For other high school artists, music was their muse. Laila James is another competition finalist who used her understanding of the late great Nina Simone to create a piece.

“The piece I submitted is called “A New Dawn.” It is inspired by Nina Simone’s song, Feeling Good, which inspired me to create that feeling of waking up and letting go of past anxieties,” says James.

A thousand dollars is given to the fourth place winner. $1,500 dollars is given to the third place winner. $3,000 dollars is given to the second place winner.

This year’s first place winner of the entire competition is Khalil McKnight. McKnight is a junior who studies at NOCCA. Mcknight’s piece is a self portrait with a societal message that was inspired by words from lyricist, Jay-Z.

Explaining his creative process, McKnight says, “I don’t like blending my acrylic paints. I like to dash them, so that once you move away from the painting, it’s blended together for your eyes. It’s a type of pointillism technique.”

As the first place winner of the entire competition, Khalil McKnight is allowed the chance to take home either $7,000 dollars or accept the opportunity to study art abroad in Italy.

Art is subjective to both the creator and the beholder. All this year’s competitors are immensely gifted. Some chose to let the beauty of their imagination lead them to a canvas of something that was breathtaking.

Sometimes art can also have a message. Rather than a gorgeous still life of fruit in a bowl, art can also be like Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and and dig further and reflect the darker and concerning issues of society. Khalil chose to use his art, to deliver a society message.

“My painting talks about how it doesn’t matter how far an African American succeeds in life. They are still viewed as being African American and seen as a black person in the eyes of society. They are still going to have to deal with these issues that they have to face,” says Khalil McKnight.

This is the first year since the pandemic that M.S. Rau offers the abroad experience to study in Italy for the winner. Congratulations to Khalil, Laila, Jayden and all of the other finalists! Click here to take a look at all of their artwork.

Laila James, Jaiden DeGeorge, & Khalil McKnight