Meet CCAD’s 2020 co-Valedictorian Bridgette Clifton

Bridgette Clifton portrait

Columbus College of Art & Design’s Class of 2020 has the distinction of having two valedictorians, each of whom is being recognized for their outstanding grades over the duration of their college careers. Both are dedicated artists and students, but each has taken their own unique path to success. Below, we focus on Bridgette Clifton (Studio Art with an Emphasis in the History of Art & Visual Culture, 2020). Click here to read about her co-Valedictorian, Alayna Marguerite Fogle (Animation, 2020)

Although she has long embraced creative practice as an outlet, Bridgette Clifton took an unconventional route to her collegiate success. Born in Patchogue, New York, she enjoyed drawing monsters and writing spooky stories from a young age (and was especially influenced by Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). A babysitter taught Clifton and her sister how to design clothes and collage, and her passion for art grew from there.

After graduating from Bellport Senior High School in Brookhaven, New York, in 2012, Clifton moved to New York City to attend Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied illustration for two years. She left school to travel the world. She studied Spanish in Guatemala for two months and backpacked solo around Colombia, Greenland, Japan, most of Europe, and elsewhere. New York City served as her home base for about five years, and when she wasn’t traveling, she worked in galleries and did freelance illustration. She also attended Hunter College briefly for anthropology.

Clifton moved to Columbus in 2017, and after a year, realized it was time to complete her BFA. She chose CCAD’s art history program and says “I couldn’t have made a better decision for myself. Despite the art history program being new and very small, I feel like I was able to focus on making my art while honing my writing skills. 

“I’ve had a lot of support from professors to break out of the norms of Art History writing which I appreciate a lot as I believe it can get pretty stale and Euro-centric. Having such intimate class settings and supportive peers has inspired me to make more art than I ever have in my life.” 

Now 26, Clifton is at work on a comical memoir that she hopes to someday publish about growing up with an addict parent, trauma, traveling, New York City sex work, and art as a means for survival. She also hopes to provide a space for people with trauma-related mental illness and who have been in the sex work industry or have suffered from drug addiction and would like to eventually move to the West Coast. She lives with three chihuahuas and a partner she calls her “musician soulmate.”

“Our main goals are to continue creating and use our rocky pasts to inspire others to be the best they can be with hard work and dedication,” Clifton says. Read more of what she has to say in the following Q&A:

What would you say was your favorite or most life-changing experience at CCAD?
Having my own studio to paint in is a first and has changed the way I make my art. Being encouraged by my professors to follow my own path has been very inspiring and different from my last college experiences.

Any notable awards/projects during your time at CCAD?
I received the Goodale Park Scholarship and the Gertrude Prize and showed at various Columbus galleries including 934 Gallery and the Cultural Arts Center.

What drives you/your work?
I think about art as escapism, art to process trauma. I have used art my whole life as a way to escape reality and will continue to do so until the day I die, whether it makes me money or not.

How has your work evolved since coming to CCAD?
I have started working larger and working with collage. Before my first painting class with Carol Griffith, I had never painted with oil and now it's my favorite type of paint to use.

How would you describe your practice now?
My practice now is governed by my emotions, experimentation, and doing whatever I feel like doing in the moment. I find I rebel against myself when I try to force something I do not want to do, So it’s a bit difficult for me to describe my art in a cohesive manner. I have begun writing again and seek to publish a memoir about my adventures in New York City as a sex worker and my travels around the world. In my art history thesis I feature one of these stories and talk about art and psychology, which is something which fascinates me.

Favorite professors or classes while here? Why do they stand out for you?
Ann Shifflet, Liz Trapp, Joanne Kesten, Aaron Petten, Kat Hammond have been incredibly inspiring and have opened my mind to a lot. I admire all of these professors’ teaching styles and if I were to teach someday I would think of their methods.

What does it mean to be named valedictorian of the class of 2020?
It’s incredibly surreal and ironic, as I really came a full 180 after having kind of a troubled past. I have never worked so hard for something in my life and feel very proud of myself for finally finishing my BFA at the top of my class. I am grateful to be alive and well, to finally have a healthy support system, and have been humbled by my past. This is just an incredible achievement for me.

What will you most miss about CCAD?
I will miss my studio, my peers, the routine of going to the library or Brioso and studying/writing in between classes, and being in an encouraging environment.

What are you looking forward to doing next?
I would love to someday study psychology and work with people reintegrating back into society after sex trafficking/other traumatic situations. I would also love to work as an art handler at a museum and get buff and strong. I am more of a behind-the-scenes or one-on-one type of gal. I honestly believe I will thrive in whatever I end up doing, and if I don't like it I'll just try something else.

Learn more about the Studio Art with an Emphasis in the History of Art & Visual Culture program at CCAD or apply here.