When Emily Steinberg graduated from the Graduate School of Fine Arts in 1992, having earned a BA, BFA and MFA from Penn, she admittedly had no idea what to make of her degree. The daughter of a former Penn Engineering professor, Steinberg had spent her entire life in and around Philadelphia, inspired by the people and places that she has found throughout the city, from the Wissahickon trail in Fairmount Park to her friends and fellow artists all across Pennsylvania. Now, having spent the past 25 years painting and the past five years finishing her graphic novel, Graphic Therapy: Notes from the Gap Years, Steinberg is able to lend a unique perspective to that growing classification of artistically minded Penn students.
In 1982, when Steinberg first embarked on her 10–year tenure at the University, there were about 50 people on campus she identified as “groovers,” a title akin to the present day hipster — too-cool artist types who scoffed at the pre-professional atmosphere that defined Reagan-era Penn. Steinberg and her friends instead preferred to expand their minds and explore the world around them, frequenting center city locales and taking advantage of the non–Wharton aspects of the campus’s academia.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Steinberg tried to apply her nonlinear mindset to the occupational world and found it challenging, opting instead to spend some time working clerically at her parents’ pharmaceutical company before applying back to grad school on campus.
It was about five years ago, while working as a middle school art teacher and painting in her spare time, that Steinberg decided to introduce a unit on autobiographical art. It was in producing her own example narrative and graphics that the idea for Graphic Therapy was born. Steinberg combined a 15–year–old collection of personal reflections on her young adult life with illustrations of people in her everyday life to populate the illustrations. Graphic Therapy is approachable and relatable, especially to today’s job–searching Penn student. Steinberg reflects on her struggles trying to make use of a degree in fine arts, which is a concept she struggles with to this day. Steinberg further expounds this sentiment in her latest project, a new graphic novel called Unemployed. She ties this ongoing theme to a long-running search for Jewish love, and places the tale in front of a Philadelphia backdrop. In reading each segment, any Penn student can play an I Spy and spot notable locations and images all around the city.
As of now, Graphic Therapy is self-published, pending mainstream publication, and Steinberg can be seen making appearances around Center City while she explores the possibility of developing a screenplay for her stories. Catch a reading of Emily Steinberg's Graphic Therapy at the Gershwin Y on Wednesday, October 26th at 7p.m.