The Story Behind “When I Was Sixteen”



Bayli Cohen is a level 4 student taking Art as a higher level course as part of her IB diploma. For her, the choice to take Art sparked from her interest in analyzing works of well known artists and classmates. She finds Art to be a subject unlike any other and says that it gives her a way to express herself. Bayli also explained that Art is a sort of outlet that can help reduce stress levels typical among IB students. She said that “art stimulates different parts of the brain” and finds she doesn’t get the same opportunities in other classes.

The assignment that inspired the piece above was part of a self-directed unit. This means every artist had completely different choices in terms of medium, theme and artistic intention. Bayli explained that this type of unit “caters to personal desires and allows people to express themselves with no restrictions.” She also recognized that a self-directed unit is sometimes so open that it is hard to choose the direction you want to follow. When finally deciding on a topic, she noted the importance of being precise in artistic intention and the meaning of one’s piece.


Her inspiration for this piece stemmed from her personal experience with the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions. As with many other people in the world, COVID-19 affected Bayli, and she wanted to express that visually. She wanted to explore the theme of how humans respond to change using the example of the pandemic.

Bayli followed the common artistic process. She began with a theme and had to then make decisions regarding the materials and medium. Her choice to use Photoshop was inspired by her curiosity over that medium. She had never done anything quite like this and wanted to expand her artistic boundaries. Bayli wanted to add new dimensions to the piece that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t made that choice. The mixed media piece began with three experimentations using different materials before Bayli made a choice for her final piece.


She explained that a common component of the artistic process involves making changes to your vision: “you’ll have an idea and in art it is quite rare for it to work out the way you had envisioned it and that’s what makes arts beautiful.” Bayli recognized that the beauty behind art often comes from last-minute adaptations and adjustments. Throughout the process of making this piece she noted that she had made many changes along the way. From bigger things like switching from oil paint to pastel to smaller things like adding more deconstruction, the piece would not be the same if she had not made any adjustments.


The title of the piece, “When I Was Sixteen,” was chosen in order to add an autobiographical element. She wanted something that represented her and her lifestyle. The two sides of the face illustrate the idea that looks can be deceiving. On one side is an article in the newspaper about covid which demonstrates that no one knows how the pandemic affected someone’s mental health. When it came to choosing an article, Bayli asked family members and neighbors for their newspapers and chose the one that best represented her artistic vision. Due to the sheer number of Covid headlines present in today’s news, this wasn’t too difficult for her. The words bolded in the bottom left corner are words that are common to hear nowadays such as “isolation” and “physical distancing.” These are words that have become so normalized in today’s society that we often forget that if you had said them a year ago, no one would understand. Moreover, the piece highlights the true impact of the pandemic on her life.


Bayli recognized that creating this piece of art has helped her put her emotions onto paper and was “grateful for the opportunity to create a piece like this.” She understands that Covid-19 has affected us all and hopes the mixed media piece can help others know their emotions are valid and they are not alone.