Yes I Can, and I Will: Clarity Haynes' Inspiring Words at PAFA 2024 Commencement

If you don’t see it in the world, you have to make it.

Clarity Haynes, 2024 PAFA Commencement Address

Incredible words of wisdom and inspiration from artist and #PafaAlum Clarity Haynes (Cert. ‘03) during this year's commencement ceremony deeply resonated with the graduates, making this milestone event a memorable and special day for everyone involved. 

Reflecting on her own journey, Haynes imparted valuable guidance to the 2024 graduates for starting their careers, emphasizing seven essential tools:

  1. See the big picture
  2. Be true to yourself
  3. Understand your mission
  4. Understand your audience
  5. Create community
  6. Take care of yourself
  7. Continue to learn and grow as an artist

She cautions them from relenting to the two words, “You can’t,” saying, “As an artist, your job is to do things that haven’t been done before. To say, ‘yes I can and I will.’

Watch her full speech on our YouTube channel:


Clarity Haynes at the podium.

Clarity Haynes speaking to the 2024 graduates during the commencement ceremony, 2024. Photo by Jade Alderman / PAFA Staff.

Haynes is known for her long-standing explorations of the torso as a site for painted portraiture. Works in her Breast/Chest Portrait Project, always painted from life and usually monumental in scale, have focused on themes of healing, trauma, and self-determination. Feminist and queer craft practices are often honored in her work. Bright colors, lively compositions, and multiple narratives conjoin in the depictions of bodies, altars, and her most recent body of work, which centers on the subject of birth.

"My work is a  cultural intervention," said Haynes in a 2018 interview, crediting her experience at PAFA with her ability to capture the human form in ways that changed conventional conversations about aging, illness and gender identity. Haynes started The Breast/Chest Portrait Project in the late nineties out of a need to address her own body issues. "It started with a self-portrait," said Haynes.

In her recent New York Times article “A New Way of Looking at the Nude: The artists redefining portraits of the body for a more inclusive age,” art historian Julia Halperin wrote: “For Haynes, the act of painting the nude is, more than anything else, an antidote to shame.”

Haynes knew from the time that she was 16 years old that she wanted to be an artist, and a mentor, Carlo Pittore,  demonstrated to her the importance of working on one’s craft constantly. This philosophy is also what drew her to PAFA. 

Haynes received the Distinguished Alumni Award from PAFA in 2020 and holds an MFA in painting from Brooklyn College, CUNY, BA from Temple University, and a Certificate of Fine Arts from PAFA. Her new monograph, Clarity Haynes: Portals (New Discretions, 2024) is the first comprehensive survey of Haynes’ work. It is available wherever books are sold. 

Featured image: Clarity Haynes speaking during commencement, May 2024. Photo by Jade Alderman / PAFA Staff. 

Oil on linen painting of a torso.
Clarity Haynes, Genesis, 2019. Oil on linen. 58 x 43 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Clarity Haynes in her studio with a painting.
Clarity Haynes in her studio with 'Leonora,' 2013. Courtesy of the artist.
Clarity Haynes at the podium for the 2024 PAFA Graduation Ceremony
Clarity Haynes speaking during commencement, May 2024. Photo by Jade Alderman / PAFA Staff.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the United States’ first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers a world-class collection of American art, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and educational opportunities in the fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell America's diverse story through art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs, while classes educate artists and appreciators with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.