Emma Berson (C ‘19) is a renaissance woman in the arts. Graphic designer, sculptor, screenwriter, director—and that’s just the shortlist. While she is focusing on film at present, she has spent her college career doing anything and everything artistic from designing politically charged apparel to creating permanent geofliters.
Her creative energy had been evident even at a young age. She was that kid who would take machines apart and put them back together, destroying something only to create something altogether new from the broken. She was that girl who taught herself Photoshop and Illustrator in middle school. She was artistically advanced, and has only expanded on her creativity. “I just grab at anything that comes my way,” she said. “I gravitate towards anything that’s creative.”
Over time, Emma’s work has grown to include a motley of projects. There’s the sweaters she designed after the 2016 election sporting the words “Grab her by the brain,” the proceeds of which went to RAINN, an anti–sexual violence organization; the Snapchat geofilter still in use for the city of Calabasas; and most recently, her project “Pick A Side” for her digital photography class spoke to the increasingly partisan nature of the nation, focusing on what those outside our familiar groups have to say, or rather, the ignorance of such. In many of her projects, the political and social ideas underlying her work are evident. She said, “I think that art or photography has such a power to create empathy, so I’m trying to provoke feeling.”
“It sounds cheesy, but I’m a creative,” she described. “I always feel weird about calling myself an artist. It’s so cheesy.” The term "artist" is almost confining because of the widespread belief that an artist specializes in a single medium. “I never wanted to just do graphic design or just do fine arts because it was too boxed.” Coming to Penn, it was almost as if the Visual Studies department, an interdisciplinary field combining the likes of art history, fine arts, psychology, design, film, and philosophy, was made for her.
Even so, in an overly quantitative and goal–oriented environment such as Penn, the ambition and drive to constantly create rather than conform is undoubtedly hard work. “I want to make sure I stay as true to myself as when I was 12 years old,” she says. “I was a bit of a tomboy and I think I lost that fearlessness a little bit.”
That fearlessness, though, seems to be coming back. For the majority of what she does, she draws inspiration from unexplored areas, straying from the mainstream. As clear from her website, her tab “Cool Things I Like” features the range of Jimi Hendrix, creative directors for large fashion powerhouses, and a child Instagram star wearing red cat–eye sunglasses in a Gucci shirt (note: follow @coco_pinkprincess). It’s the colors in the art pieces, the electric guitar riff in the song, and the attitude of the people.
This summer, she bought the domain name for Dear Virgil, hoping to catch the attention of her long–time influence, Virgil Abloh, to possibly serve as her thesis adviser. She co–wrote a pilot episode of a TV show centered on the theme of this generation’s fright of mediocrity. A dramedy, the plot focuses on those who are not necessarily the best of the best in their industry and how they deal with it—a phenomenon played out all too often at Penn.
And down the road, there’s so much more to come from Emma. For her senior thesis, she’s developing a personal brand in a tangible product through execution of every creative aspect, including the creation, the implementation, and the marketing. After working in production at a film studio in LA, film and directing is most likely where she’s going to head post–graduation. But with the abundance of mediums and capabilities before her, it would also be no surprise to see her pivot, be that in fashion, interior design, or painting. She is, after all, the next Virgil Abloh.