Where does your intention to change come from? Focusing on positive change to help others is often the key to lasting change. Here are 25 ways that small change can make a difference. thanks @tinybuddah
**All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.**
“Sequence” by Wynne Nuhfer | Hybrid Education of Greater Atlanta | Tucker, GA
What does it mean to be human? This is a broad question with both biological and philosophical implications.My exploration of this question began with researching the biological markers of humanity. I learned of the protein domain DUF1220. Evolutionary biologists and geneticists believe DUF1220 plays an important role in distinguishing humans from other primates. It has been suggested that this protein domain may be a primary force behind the evolution of the human brain. Our genes play an important part in defining our humanity, but there is more to our humanity than our biology.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says this: “Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play… I tell you, that it is on things like these that our lives depend. ” Like Oscar Wilde, I believe that to seek beauty and art is to seek the secret of life. I believe that one of the most amazing and unique elements of humanity is art.
Seeking to bridge both the biological and the philosophical, I translated DUF1220 into music . The protein domain DUF1220 is coded by the gene NBPF15. Through the Human Genome Project, I accessed the sequence for NBPF15. Gene sequencing involves thousands of combinations of the same four letters,C, A, T and G, each representing a nucleotide base. I assigned each set of two bases a specific note, and each line an instrument. Using MuseScore, a program to electronically create music, I composed the song Sequence. In the end, Sequence only spanned 640 of the 4046 bases. To turn all of them into music would create a song nearly ten minutes long, and this is only one gene. I set to music a tiny piece of a tiny piece of the vast experience that is humanity.
Sequence brings together biology and philosophy. It seeks to capture both the cacophony and the harmony of human existence. Creating it was an arduous process – I didn’t read or play music, nor did I know much about DNA and gene sequencing. I came away from the project not only with a deeper knowledge of genetics and music, but also with an enhanced understanding of the significance of art. Ultimately, art in and of itself is neither moral nor immoral. It is shaped by the viewer and shapes the viewer. There is no one defining aspect of humanity, but this is, I believe, a quintessential part of the human experience- to create art, to consume art, and to be changed by art.
“Nevalian Constructed Language” by Skye Koons | Herron High School | Indianapolis, IN
There are over 7,000 languages spoken on Earth. Of those, the vast majority have less than 1,000 speakers. Language is, and always has been, one of the most notable aspects of human society. Language is not always the conventional sounds we think of, however; there is a variety of Turkish “spoken” in several valleys of Turkey that is whistled, along with the Khoisian languages of southern Africa that include clicks in their phonology, not to mention the hundreds of indigenous sign languages signed throughout the world. Language is the paint for the canvas of our imagination, of our processing, of our descriptions.
In addition to learning natural languages, I have always loved toying with this paint, mixing it and matching it in the form of constructed languages, or conlangs for short. It is a hobby of expression, with the language representing almost perfectly the creator of it. Personally, I have toyed with tens of language ideas, from posteriori, languages derived from natural ones or other constructed languages, and priori, or those which stand alone, not derived from any other languages, which is the type that Nevalian, the attached constructed language, is. Priori especially give the utmost freedom, because they are not limited by the constraints of the language being derived from, but only what the creator of the language deems reasonable.
Toying with language allows me to explore the most human of behaviors. No other species has a system of communication as complex as hours, with body language and intonation giving further cues beyond just what is said. It is an art, especially in the sense of Tolkien’s most famous created languages, Quenya and Sindarin. And through this art I have learned much about linguistics, from the intricacies of a grammar to the extent that simplicity in one area creates complexity in another, i.e. creating a simple case system leads to a complex word order to solidify meaning, as it does in English (whereas in Finnish, the complex case system leads to a relatively lax word order). Constructed languages are a direct link to human conversation.
“On the Drug War and How it has Shaped Life Itself” by Midori Barandiaran | International High School | New Orleans, LA
The idea of something beautiful emerging from destruction for the sake of creation seems to reflect in the struggle for existence. In order to cope with mine, I write poetry as a release and also a median for expression. Poetry and language helped me paint the dark walls around; they introduced me to another approach. Poetry is the beautiful thing that emerged from destruction. I treated this project personally because the topic resonated very intimately with me. I mostly learned about myself, appropriately, while writing this essay and the accompanying poem. I spent a lot of time self examining what I feel to be true. Furthermore, I find what it means to be human is to experience. Experiences are inclusive to music and all other forms of art. Exposure enables empathy and I have a strong desire to expand my own in order to understand. The essay allowed me to reflect introspectively and express personal truths. The interconnected nature of existence exhibits that humans are a collective meant to be in relation and collaboration with one another. As humans we grow and learn through inquiry and discourse.
“A Simple Comic About Complexity” by Lucas Hills | Lincoln Academy | Woolwich, MA
The conversation about what it means to be human is vast, fascinating, and undeniably relevant. Multiple routes can be taken on any intellectual journey; the Beautiful Minds Challenge 2015-16 prompt is no exception. This became apparent while I was initially brainstorming ideas. So much thought and writing throughout history has been poured into this question that it’s impossible to compress into a single dialogue. Rather than losing sleep by attempting such a feat, I decided to present one of my favorite theories.
At first, I wanted to make a video. While designing some scenes, I sketched a few frames of myself with speech bubbles and hand gestures. My older brother suggested to skip the video altogether because the frames I had sketched looked so cute as a cartoon strip. So, I took a crack at comic writing. That plan shift paid off because I discovered how easy it is to communicate sophisticated ideas with just a little visual aid.
After some meticulous revising, I became confident of the draft in my hands.
In lieu of drawing talent, I decided to collaborate with an artist friend named Lindsay Brackett to create a more polished final product. One day, while working together, we talked about how subtle humor captures attention and makes the experience of absorbing information more rewarding. John Green’s Crash Course curriculum is a great example; it’s peppered with jokes and adorable animations to entice the watcher and make dense content easy to swallow. I subscribe to several similar online publications, including Existential Comics, xkcd, RSA Animates, TED ED, and The Oatmeal. Internet celebrities with teaching prowess such as Matthew Inman, Sal Khan, and John Green inspire me because they offer quality online educational entertainment free of charge, something which I believe will be a valuable tool, not only in countering the accessibility barriers of income inequality, but also for efficiently elevating all of humankind into a higher standard of intellect.
My comic ties together ideas taken from several contemporary philosophical theories, such as:
The Phenomenon of Man By Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Novelty Theory by Terence Mckenna
Big History by John Green
The Six Epochs of Evolution by Ray Kurzweil
To me, each of them is either incomplete or excessive on its own. The comic I wrote is a reinterpretation of those ideas I was exposed to. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as Lindsay and I enjoyed creating it.
“The Painter” by Leo Duch-Clerici |Bethesda-Chevy Chase | Chevy Chase, MD
As I stared blankly at the prompt, I thought to myself: what is being human? The answer, I could not find at the moment. Then, I thought back at a story my 97 year old neighbor had told me; Back in the 1940’ he served during World War 2, along with his brother, Benjamin McCarthy who was in the Air Core. Benjamin was a bombardier in a special unit that had specialized in low altitude, high precision bombing. Their mission was to bomb the railyard in Florence, a narrow strip of land surrounded by buildings so precious and ancient, the army had forbidden to destroy them. Benjamin’s squadron would risk their lives in order to make sure some old buildings were not accidentally destroyed by the bombing. This seemed like madness at first; all natural laws of man went against this concept, to possibly die for an object, where was the sense in that. But there, in that apparent madness is the key to humanity’s greatest virtue.
We, as humans, recognize that art in itself is what makes us human, what allows us to live life fully, what teaches us compassion and love, anger and sadness, beauty and hideousness. That is why we feel outrage when we hear that some dictatorship has restricted its people’s freedom of speech, and that is why the brave men of Benjamin’s squadron took a step dive and risked their lives in order to save that of a stone city.
My film, The Painter, is my way of exploring that aspect which I believe is most important in defining a human: The ability to create art. In the film, the audience is introduced to a girl who works at a factory, doing nothing more than painting straight lines for days on end, until she witnesses something that never happened to her in this workplace: a mistake. When she accidentally lets a drop of excess paint from her brush fall into her sheet of paper, she has an awakening in which she discovers the importance of art and freedom of expression.
In the film, the viewer will be faced by the question, is it worth it to die for art? and, is it worth to live without art? I will give my insight but not an answer; the answer is for every individual to reflect and find by himself.
“Free Will in a Consumer Society” by Matthew Lemonier |New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts | Slidell, LA
I read Brave New World, because my teacher had recommended it to me when I asked him what it meant to be human. It was a fantastic read and I was able to make many connections to mass consumer culture today. Though the society in Brave New World is very radical version of ours, I saw many connections to the citizens in our present day society! Our free will and choices are negotiated not by scientific technology, but by advertisements and propaganda that is constantly being bombarded into our sub-conscious. It makes us think, act and feel a certain way, but because there is not a physical force that makes us consume more, citizens feel as though they have complete autonomy. No matter how hard you try, you cannot completely abstain from mass consumerism in our society. However, it is possible to abstain from becoming like the mindless citizens in the novel by resisting the power of tyranny to keep one’s mind active and free. The individual freedoms may be limited in the modern world, but they must be exercised constantly in order to retain our humanity.
I’ve captured my truth in a song that follows the course of a male consumer, who consumes to feel the short-lived pleasures of buying new products. His life revolves around consuming and buying to feel accepted by society. He buys to distract himself from the problems of the world and the problems in his life. By constantly obeying his corporate masters, he does not exercise his free will and therefore loses a part of his humanity.
“The Individuality in Humanity” by Elaine Kearney |Sturgis Charter Public School (West Campus) | Plymouth, MA
My name is Elaine and I am a senior in high school. For my project, I wrote an essay using skills I have learned in my Theory of Knowledge course at school. Theory of Knowledge, TOK, is a class that is a requirement for the International Baccalaureate Diploma. TOK is considered the equivalent of a philosophy course, teaching students how to solve issues from a variety of perspectives. It’s easily one of my favorite courses as I learn something new every single day, whether it be a new perspective on an issue, a new way to write a strong essay, or a new way to attain knowledge.
Because TOK is so important to me, I decided to base my entry off of the essays that I write there. The following essay is just under 2,500 words, and I learned a lot from the process. In this essay in particular, I found it challenging to come up with an answer. In TOK, we learn that there is always more than one answer to a question, but our essay topics are still guided. In the prompts, it is suggested to discuss a certain topic or idea, but this prompt was so open-ended that I felt like I could do anything with it. Part of me was a little unsure of how to approach this, but I really enjoyed attempting to answer the large question of what defines us as humans.
First, I researched popular theories as to what defines us. I saw multiple options. Some say the ability to feel love is what makes us human. Others say the ability to think makes us who we are. Some even say that nothing makes humans special, we are just organisms on a rock in space. I had to believe that the last theory was untrue, as I believe that there is something unique and different about humanity, I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
Eventually, after all of my research, I came to a conclusion. My conclusion for this study reads as follows “I believe that we cannot accurately capture a truth as to what it means to be human. I believe that the terms “humanity” or “human” have to be defined in regards to the individual. Each and every single individual has their own thoughts, their own emotions, their own story. To generalize humanity by defining it in a simple theory or a simple definition is to go directly against what we all are, individual.” With this theory, I do not mean to be challenging the prompt, as I believe it is an important question for us to ask ourselves. What I mean by this is that we are all different. Everyone sees life differently. Everyone has different experiences. Everyone, in a sense, is in their own world, which contains all of their own emotions, thoughts, dreams, hopes, wants.
In writing this paper, I learned something which cannot be taught in school. It is something that cannot be found by doing research, or scientific study. It can only be found after introspection and consideration of large philosophical questions. In this, I learned a new sense of appreciation for the individual. Everyone lives their life, as humans we have approximately 100 years. That’s not very long. In this span of time, we experience a multiplicity of events. We experience happiness, sadness, love, hate, success, failure, the good, the bad, everything. Each individual experiences these events differently. My life as a caucasian female in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2015 is completely different than the experience of a male in Ancient Rome, which is completely different than a widow in Japan, etcetera. Even though our life experiences are radically different, we have certain aspects in common, emotions, thoughts. Because I learned that every individual in life is different from the rest, I have noticed a change in my behavior. I listen to others more. I see myself trying to put myself in the shoes of others. I try to understand.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this event, and I will take this appreciation for those around with me as my life goes on. I hope to teach others the same appreciation for life which I have and hopefully make a difference in the world.
I would like to end this cover letter with a quotation from my favorite author, which I now have a whole new appreciation for.
“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.” – East of Eden, John Steinbeck.
“Morality” by Loryn Eagleson |Winnacunnet | Hampton, NH
My name is Loryn Eagleson and I am a high school senior with a passion for movie making. When I was presented with this project during a open house tour to Marlboro College, I was originally ecstatic to get another challenge in which I could use my love of film production. Day one I began by simply writing the word human on my whiteboard. I sat and stared at the word for an hour, just writing the first words that came to my mind. But, nothing came to mind. Finally, a light bulb came over my head as my eyes drew to my AP English book, “Ethan Frome,” by Edith Wharton. The story follows Ethan Frome, a depressed man living in a depressed town with a depressing wife who is seriously pondering abandoning his spouse for her beautifully happy younger cousin. Ethan struggles with his own moral line of whether or not leaving his wife would be justified because he is unhappy. It got me thinking about human nature. I thought, well surely, those people in prison for hateful crimes cannot possibly have a line of morality. Then I thought: What if they truly thought what they did was okay? Would that make everyone have some sort of line of morality? So began my journey.
For the past month, since discovering my topic, I dove myself into the creation of my movie, “Morality.” It is based upon my first thesis that all humans have some line of morality in which draws the difference between right and wrong for an individual. I explore this topic through research, interviews and my own observations on human nature.
I started by getting the opinion of Kevin Fleming, an expert on psychology. Fleming’s belief is that morality is like a compass in which is designed as a focus of what is and what is not appropriate. I then proceeded to ask him a series of questions revolving around society verse religion and how it can interfere with an individual’s natural born instinct. He informed me that in third world countries, your line of right and wrong can be effected by a need of survival. Then in a less drastic measure, your line can be effected by what the majority of the people around you feel is justified or unjustified. Society was shown by the girl looking out the window at the passerbyers, it is believed that the women is pondering her own beliefs and comparing them to those around her. Religion was shown through the boy staring at the church. From the interview I found that religion is extremely influential on someone’s beliefs. As the interview progressed, he went into depths of being born with a certain understanding of right and wrong, but being corrupt as life starts becoming more complicated. This is shown through the woman and the man, now shown faded from the images of the children, which symbolized fairness, and how they can only see the fairness now instead of being it.
As much help that Kevin Fleming provided me with his years of knowledge on psychology and human nature, I don’t think it was as much help as going out and finding that line of morality in my six observents. I took six individuals and put them in a difficult ethical situation then showed the difference in answers. Note that none of them knew the situation that they were going to be placed in before the videotape had started.
First pair: Jeanne Chapman and Dylan Eastman
Result: Both had the same answer
Notes: Both Chapman and Eastman both maintained a level of seriousness and calmness throughout the entire story line. Neither one hesitated to answer and were both sincere in what they came up with.
Second Pair: Scott Allen and Joan Thompson
Relationship: Married for 17 years
Result: Different outcomes
Notes: Thompson was unsure how to respond and struggled with what was right or wrong in her situation. After a pause to think and some quick ad libbing Thompson was able to answer. Much unlike her husband Allen. Allen never truly gave an answer but responded with humor in place of having to decide in a difficult situation.
Third Pair: Randall Miller and Glenn Eagleson
Relationship: Married for 15 years
Results: Different outcomes
Notes: They strongly believed before stepping into questioning, that their answers would be the same. Eagleson knew of his answer, but understood that it could be different to mine and became self conscious. He briefly tried to relate to the other side, then announced his own answer. Miller did not hesitate with his response. Yet, in the end, after being faced against death in their scenario, they responded oppositely then one another.
This only expanded my thesis, that while everyone has a line of morality, right and wrong is truly different to the next person, which only made them human.
My movie begins with a young blonde headed boy holding a compass, the compass is a symbol of his morality. The viewers realize that the boy is hitting the end of adolescents, which was pointed out by Fleming to be the time in life before the natural born morality is corrupt by complications in life. As the movie ends, the same boy has grown up and had entered the said “complications of life” where morality, which is symbolized by the compass, is still in hand. Viewers can point out that the needle of the compass is still swaying, as is the swaying of moral choice.
My film “Morality” is based upon by study that to be human is to have a line of morality, even if that line is different then the next person.
“Exploring the Realms of Human Nature through Poetry” by Nora Lynch |Montclair High School | Montclair, NJ
Humanity is the only species that kills its own kind to prove a point. Other animals kill to gain territory, to compete for food or mates, or to protect their young. Humans, however, murder one another to settle differences over creed, gender identity, race, ethnicity, politics, religion, or sexual orientation.
I wrote many pieces exploring the dark sides of humanity: war, genocide, discrimination, greed. I wanted to dig into the extremes of human cruelty, and the compassion that shines through them. Humans may have a vast capacity for cruelty, but we also have a great ability to reach beyond our communities and show acceptance and kindness to all living things.
This brings me to my next pair of poems, which consider how humans interact with fate and destiny. We humans like to believe we control our own fate. That is a huge reason why we believe in an afterlife after our bodies fail. It is comforting to think that we have some say in our deaths and where we go afterward. Religious practices help ensure that we get to that destination after death. Even the non-religious, especially in the western world, retain the idea that we are the masters of our own fate – that hard work and drive will ensure success and the fulfillment of one’s dreams.
However, chance plays a major role in our lives. Much as we may wish it, the world’s happenings and fate’s whims do not revolve around our hopes and desires. Accepting one’s fate is perhaps one of the greatest human challenges.
It is human nature to fear the unknown; that was what protected us from predators in our early days. That tendency to fear strangers is still strong – whether they love in a way that seems strange, or simply live somewhere unseen. Yet we can also relate to others, even if they live far away, or conduct their lives in ways that can be misunderstood. We humans are capable of putting our many differences aside to work for a common interest. This is one of the numerous dark sides to human nature that I attempt to grapple with in my work.
One of my favorite topics to write about is nature, and not just for its beauty. The human relationship with nature is perhaps even more complex. While we come from nature, we have the power to destroy it, to ruthlessly dominate it, and to exterminate entire species in a terrifyingly short time. Humans like to separate themselves from their natural roots. Among many conservative, religious people, the notion of evolution is an outrage. Even today there are people who find the possibility of being descended from furry, ape-like creatures horrifying to contemplate. Yet the evidence of our origins on the grasslands of Africa is strong—there is no denying that humans and nature are one in the same, and whether we wish it or not, it will remain that way for the rest of our existence.
“The Human Link” by Karla Ramos and Jason Veloz |City College Academy of the Arts | New York, NY
When we first started working on this project we were stumped. We found it strange that, as humans, we couldn’t answer what seemed to be such a simple question. A constant thought that crossed our minds was, if scientist struggled to answer this question how were we supposed to answer it? It’s something we would all answer differently, so how could we find an answer that includes everything? Before we started our project we set out on a journey, with a simple but profound question on our minds, we wanted nothing more than to understand.
To start we took a simple approach, we asked those closest to us the same question, what makes us human? No one seemed to have a straight answer, some said that their friends and family are what made them human, and others used science as an explanation. At the end of all our questions, we were more confused than we were at the start. That’s not to say that we didn’t make any progress, we found out that all these answers had one thing in common, communication. At the root of it all humans wouldn’t be humans if it weren’t for other humans. As odd as that sounds, we all are the result of the relationships and bonds we create. Humans are able to accomplish goals that would otherwise be impossible because we have each other to work off of.
Intelligence, Curiosity and Creativity were the three main points that we wanted to discuss in our video. We felt that these three qualities that all humans have were greatly improved by collaboration with others. We really wanted to show that while we all are individuals, we are individuals that are greatly influenced by those we communicate with. We nurture our intelligence as we collaborate with each other; we sate our curiosity as we discover more with others, and our creativity flourishes when ideas unite.
We began to recognize that it’s really the little things that make us human. We wanted to document our journey, showing the things that we learned, so that maybe someone can learn from it too.
“The Place Where Green Creatures Sing” by Emma Baer-Simon |U.S. Grant High School | Portland, OR
My piece for the Beautiful Minds Challenge, titled “The Place Where Green Creatures Sing,” is a short story exploring the human capacity to dream and imagine what we cannot physically see. Above all other creatures, we possess the ability to create art in many forms. J.R.R. Tolkien states in his essay On Fairy Stories, “ The human mind is capable of forming mental images of things not actually present” (Tolkien, Fairy Stories, 138). Humans can create art, and ultimately, we pull this desire from our souls, from which our dreams come. In this short story, the girl (I have deliberately left her nameless), has a dream. The implication is that everyone else on the ship has the same dream. The difference is that she is brave enough to confront it. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, several prisoners are chained up in the dark, unable to see anything but shadows. When one escapes, and finds the light of the sun up above, he returns to tell the others, but they do not believe him, insisting that, “up he went and down he came without his eyes” (Plato, Cave, 5). In my story, the girl represents the prisoner that escaped, and the green place that she sees is symbolic of the real world. The ship is the cave, and the proverb “Go to the place where green creatures sing,” is the shadow of reality. It is a human trait to hope in something that is not real, in order to go on living what is. As a species, we have a capacity to believe. The prisoners in the cave believe in the sun, and the people on the ship believe in the color green. However, they have neither, only illusions, and then when they are met with the truth, they shy away from it, dismissing it as a lie. What makes us human is that we know how to imagine and believe in something. Those who no longer believe have lost their humanity, as the people on the ship do when they no longer believe in their dream. When the girl, the man and the child leave for the stars, they are rediscovering it, because they believed, even though they were afraid. Belief in something hypothetical is always what has allowed us as humans to keep going. All of the inhabitants of the ship had a hope to follow, even if they knew it wasn’t real. The difference was that some were content for it to remain simply hypothetical, while a few wanted to see it in its true form. Those who continued to believe in the illusion would soon have lost hope in it, because they now inherently knew that it was an illusion. They would have forgotten, and then they would have no longer been human. The poem at the beginning is allegorical of the emergence of life on earth, and finally, the impact that human desires have had on it. Eventually, the remainder of the human race would have wandered for an endless eternity, clinging onto the hope of green that they lost, and save for those that carried on to find it, they would have forgotten. Humans have a way of remembering things in the form of dreams, and those dreams are transcribed into stories. The girl managed to tell her story through the song of the universe, which she sings with her two companions, but the others would have been doomed to forget as they could not find a way to tell it.
I learned a lot that I hadn’t considered about human nature from doing this project. It has fascinated me so much that I have developed it in several different forms, in many of my classes. I am writing a research paper in my English class about myth as a human art, and I am also enrolled in a world history class where we discuss much about how the human race has managed to become such a powerful species. I realized that what sets us apart is our ability to communicate ideas. We find these ideas through imagination, which we access by entering the greater consciousness of the world, just as the three characters in my story entered the song of the universe again. As a writer, I am now beginning to understand that perhaps our ideas aren’t simply created out of nothing, but that we have to remember them from what once was inherent in our souls. That which we have forgotten is still within us. I dream of the color green, just as the girl in my story does, and I am finding ways to communicate this dream, as I remember what it means to be human.
“We Always Listen to Our Mother” by Jadian Bryan |Tinicum Art and Science | E. Greenville, PA
When I think of what it means to be human, I immediately think about our resilience and the constant change of what goes on around and within us. I first began to brainstorm how I could visually represent that idea of change being the only constant in the human experience, but soon realized there was something that just didn’t feel quite right about that idea. Yes, our environment and experiences are always evolving, but I was fearful that my original view on change had started off on a stale note. Change is inevitable, so what? I began to feel disinterested in my original idea and knew I needed some space from it for a while, to allow myself to really let my thoughts flow.
During this break I felt myself get increasingly wrapped up in a cycle of school, work, sleep, and repeat. I felt my creative intention waver and when I was able to take a step back, I realized that I was lost in somewhat of a haze. I was determined to bring myself out of it and luckily found some time where I wasn’t just on autopilot. One morning, as I got ready for a day with my family, I reflected on just how much family gatherings have changed over the years. Whether it be siblings moving away as they get older, kids going to college, or the divorces that have occurred over the past year, there was an obvious change felt through the ever-shrinking number of faces present at family gatherings. Despite this change, I also knew that I appreciated these gatherings now more than ever, even if they felt a lot different than they did when I was little. This inspired me to look a lot closer for what it meant to be human, to really get down to my personal experience.
Feeling rather spontaneous from all this inspiration I felt, I asked my grandmother (75), aunt (50), and cousin (15) what they they thought it meant to “be human”. I wanted their input because I knew that they all have felt the change made clear by these family get togethers as much as I have. I found that despite the difference in generations, all of their answers included something about love. Can our love for each other conquer the instability, doubt, and hecticness that change brings into our lives? Can we make love our truth even when love seems to be missing in the reflections we see outside of ourselves? Despite the cheesiness of it, I think love does conquer all, and I’m so grateful to be able to capture that sentiment coming from those I hold near and dear to me.
The final product took the form of a handmade zine, we always listen to our mother, made up mainly of recycled materials. This zine represents a few things including creation from spontaneity, the care that goes into creating something by hand, and the physical manifestation of preserving a moment in time. I allowed for my plan to be open ended and attempted to leave myself free of restrictions. I wanted the serendipitous feeling that comes from not knowing exactly where a project or idea will lead. The pieces of cut up cardboard and paper I used to construct this zine now hold the documentation of my family’s belief in love rather than the statistics and testimonials they held as a pamphlet in their previous life. I want these words and pictures to be something I hold on to, and for something for my family’s future generations to look at. It’s a token of love and hope of the present, but most importantly a token from the past for the future.
“To be Human” by Victoria Rose | School One | Riverside, RI
I’m seventeen years old, which means I’m in the middle of figuring a lot of things out right now: who I am, what my passions are, and how I see the world around me. I knew I didn’t want to create a project. I wanted to monitor a project that was creating itself. Two years ago, I became avid about recording things on my phone and putting together videos of family trips, exciting nights out with friends: anything I wanted to remember. I wanted to document my life the way my parents had home videos. The more I did this, the more I realized that I wasn’t recording ‘big’ things. I was recording small moments from normal days. Any footage in this video that is not an interview, was recorded without the intention of ever being part of this. These were recordedin some cases a year in advance. They are all first take and true. I stress this point because it is important to understand all content here is genuine. Even the interviews were done in one take. They did not know me, or the question, before I approached them with it. I knew that if I wanted an honest and genuine video, it needed to be more than just one voice. I sat on the boulevard, in the park, anywhere. I asked total strangers to make sure it was unbiased. Talking with these people was such a wonderful experience. I met the kindest, most inspiring people because of this project. I think what truly makes us human is the compassion and beauty in the way we connect with one another. Everything in this video clips, interviews, voice over is genuine. The fact that it’s beautiful? That’s proves it.
“Painting Passions” by Rachel Bork |Agoura High School | West Hills, CA
My favorite things to paint and study are both the human experience, and human expression. I have put portraits, sketches, and poetry from my mind to my pen on paper, but I wanted to challenge how I normally think about art in this project to capture the truth of what it means to be human. I decided instead of taking my personality to create a portrait of a normal- looking human, I would take the personality of one of my friends and paint directly on their skin to try my best to represent them. I was going to invert the process of covering up emotion so that I could make a statement about the truth of humans and their passions that stem from who they are, or their personalities. My results stunned viewers because they made them think below the surface of my two canvases, Maria and Will, to what it means to be a human being.
Going into this project I mainly wanted to focus on representing Will and Maria’s personalities. Our personalities are how we show our passions to the outside world. Humans are the only species that work to truly improve the world and people often forget how much power things they actually enjoy doing can have on other people and themselves. It is a very genuine interest in improving the lives of others that fascinates me most, when describing passions. I know plenty of people who change the world room by room, shifting the energy and bringing up important topics that need to be addressed. I chose to take my passion of painting, guided by my friends’ passions and personalities, to paint my friends’ faces.
To get background knowledge on how I was going to paint my friends, I thoroughly thought about how they arrived in the world, and what traits I thought they embodied. I have been friends with Will and Maria each for over a year now and have easily noticed how they separate themselves from others. Maria is a subtle, calming, and peaceful presence, while Will is very spontaneous, outgoing, and caring beyond belief. I had the chance to talk to Will while I was painting on him. His words determined the thickness and severity of my strokes, the shading, and the colors I used. One moment he was laughing and the next he was frowning, but he always was acting as I had remembered he was. In the end I had painted him with my fingers and thick, wild strokes to show the child-like carelessness he sometimes resembles. He was also given a variety of colors to further show how much variety he embodies in how he reacts, and his spontaneity brought out my spontaneous side, disregarding how I would normally blend my paintings. In contrast, I painted Maria with a lot of shading and cool tones because she maintained a steady expression and feeling throughout the time I was painting her. She has always thought situations through and acted wisely, so I took time and effort to maintain her face by blending with paintbrushes.
The last part of my process was taking off the art I had created in order to show that at the truth of humans being passionate and unique, they are all connected. Humans are all similar in form but our personalities set us apart, and in washing off the paint I was able to demonstrate not only the differences that make humanity special, but how our differences connect us all to our species and to each other. The parts of Will and Maria’s faces I wiped away were representative of the truth that under all of our individuality we are all alive and human biologically, as well as through thought. Our passions separate us, and as his adventurous and spontaneous passion brings me to use thick and deep strokes on his face, other people’s faces would reflect their personalities.
While re-evaluating my process, I was able to further reflect on what it means to be human in a two-fold learning experience for myself. I noticed that the more and more I thought about how I saw them and translated that to how I painted them, I was painting was more about me than my friends. The strokes and colors of their newly painted faces were a symbol of their own unique passion, but also a reflection of how I viewed them. My actions to decide how Maria and Will were as people decided how I saw them, and likewise how I am as a person with my own set of eyes to perceive my surroundings. I tell a bigger, more complex story of myself through my analysis of my friends than I ever could about them as people. People see what they are. It is a very common idea to recognize oneself in their art, in their friends, or in their life because of their familiarity with their own mind. By describing Maria as calm and peaceful, my own identity has seen itself through a mirror, and truly decided that when I am around Maria I take on those attributes from the huge pool of traits that can make up a personality. It is an incredibly human study to look to other people and see much more than hunger or sadness, and then to go the extra step to connect someone’s complex personality to oneself.
My ability to type on this computer is just as miraculous as any improvement made by a species, but human improvements have tended to go past the expectations and beyond to this new world of technology and social media. The truth at the core of humans is their self awareness that makes them re-evaluate themselves as evolution does. While I was painting on my friend’s faces I was able to look into my own beliefs and thoughts even more than I normally do. Introspective thinking brought me to the conclusion that my personality was reflected in my art, but also the realization that I was able to think about who I am. This is the second huge discovery of my Beautiful Minds piece; that of self-discovery. Humans are only animals before they chose faith or intricate thought, and their ability to look into their own thoughts and decide that self reflection and psychology exist is what sets them apart from other species. We can chose what we believe and follow in the same way that a Muslim, Catholic, or Jew might chose hope because we are able to think about our thinking and decide what is right.
All in all, humans are complex creatures who are so aware of themselves and their surroundings that they make a conscious choice to believe in religion, act spontaneous, or leave themselves completely out of conflict. Being human is so much more than just being, as with many other animals. We give meaning to our actions and we project our thoughts and ideas onto how we perceive others. The human experience connects us all with a higher form of knowledge that is self-reflection and awareness unlike any experience of any other animal. Humans are only a new evolution of our ancestor shared with today’s ape, but with evolution we have become so aware to a form beyond purely living. Being so aware can feel dull sometimes, almost as if living has lost its spark. However, our ability to think beyond what we see and look into ourselves to the root of what it means to exist as an individual brings the human race together, connected by their uniqueness.
“Human Nature” by Erelyn Griffin |Leland and Gray | Westminster, VT
A lot of times I struggle to say how I feel about things; my art gives me a voice, it makes me feel heard, especially when no one wants to listen. In September, I had started a concentration in A.P. art about something I am really compassionate about, nature. One day my class advisor, Mr. Goodemote approached me with a groovy-looking brochure for something called the “Beautiful Minds Challenge”. I took this coincidence as a sign from the universe that I should participate in the challenge. When I looked at the prompt, I was pleasantly surprised. I know what it means to be human, and it’s what I was already demonstrating through my art.
Being a human means that you possess the ability to be compassionate and exercise ethics. We humans have been known to build societies with roots of what we are compassionate about and what we think is and ethical. We express our ethical and compassionate nature through religion, law and the basic choices we make in our lives. These things are what truly separate humans from other animals.
While we all share the ability to be ethical and compassionate, what we humans choose to believe is right or worth being compassionate about varies with the human. The more compassionate we can be, the more human we will become. Something important that many humans often neglect to treat with ethics or show compassion for is nature. They fail to see that humans are not above nature, they are a part of it. Nature is symbiotic. If we abuse nature we are by extension abusing ourselves. The way we treat nature affects us directly. If we continue to destroy nature we will surely destroy ourselves, therefore we really should be more caring towards it and treat it with more respect.
In my “truth”, I depict a human tree that shelters animals. The tree is shaped like a human to show that humans are a part of nature and not just surrounded by it. By caring for the animals, the human-tree is demonstrating an affection for the other parts of nature. It accepts the other parts of nature and lets the animals surround it. The animals also embrace the human-tree. The way the animals congregate around the tree makes the viewer see them as separate beings, but all part of a whole, which is nature. I chose to use my own face as a model for the human-tree to show that I am compassionate about this topic.
My drawings of the “human-tree” respond to the prompt of “what it means to be human”, by invoking the feeling of compassion, which is my take on what makes us human. Also my drawings demonstrate my own human ability to have compassion. My in making this concentration is to invoke compassion towards nature in other humans. My message is meant to be a tacit understanding between the art and the humans viewing it.
Through my “truth”, I hope to bring attention to the vitality of our human compassion and ethical practices, especially towards something that many people tend to neglect, like nature. I hope when others view my art they get a feeling that they are apart of something bigger and grander than themselves. I also hope that when they recognize that I, another human, am demonstrating such humanity they will have more appreciation for their own human abilities; to feel something so profound as compassion, and to make choices based on ethical thinking. Finally, I hope that they become inspired to use their human capabilities as freely and as frequently as possible, to make the world a better place.
“Human” by Nathaniel Van Osdol |Leland and Gray Union High School | Jamaica, VT
I learn my best from writing. Whether it be taking notes, writing poems, or even short stories; writing always helps me to understand the world around me. When I wrote this poem it helped me to understand several things about myself, as well as the people around me. These lessons that I pick up from writing very often help me work with others, and even work with myself, so that I may be kinder and more aware of what is happening around me.
I wrote this poem and realized many things about myself. I learned that I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. I also learned that, although I may not like it, in order to grow, I must break. To be able to move forward in life, and move away from difficult things, I must first acknowledge the pain and let it in. I must recognize the issue before I can move on.
While writing this poem I also realized how strong we are as people. We are constantly being broken by life, whether by people around us or situations in which we find ourselves, yet we are always being reborn. Some of us are reborn into the same thing, ourselves, only stronger. Yet some of us are reborn into what seems like new people entirely. Our ability to raise our heads high, even after all we’ve encountered, makes us incredible beings worthy of praise for what we can accomplish. To be human is to be resilient. To be human is to feel the good and the bad, to cope, to break, and then to put ourselves back together. To be human is a gift.
“Emote” by Emily Weatherill | The Sharon Academy| Sharon, VT
I learned that people have very different ways of looking at and understanding information. I discovered little things about my peers though listening back to the audio of them that I hadn’t noticed before, which makes me want to slow down and pay more attention to the little things in life.
At first I had no idea where to start- what being human means is a HUGE question (as you very well know). I decided I wanted to do something that involved other people, so I could practice working with audio/video editing software. First, I thought about what being human meant to me, and what traits I thought were uniquely human. I settled on emotion, but wasn’t sure how to talk about it. Then I decided to talk to other people, and focus on imagination and thoughts- what people could take and create from music.
It turned out more interesting than I had thought it would, getting many great notes about stories they had envisioned, and also what they thought being human was all about. Editing the different clips of audio together, recording myself, and choosing which other songs I had previously written fit into the piece, let me explore the software I was using more thoroughly when the audio levels didn’t match up.
Thank you to all of the students that submitted projects to this year’s Beautiful Minds Challenge! We loved the creativity and thought that went in to each submission. Congratulations to our 2015-16 winners!
**All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.**
First Place, Senior – “Seeing Red” by Brooke Evans | Cedar Creek School | Ruston, LA
A human being is a multifaceted creature. A human being can be a hero, a villain, and anything between. In creating this project with pages of books and languages from around the globe characterizing humanity as being imperfect, good, evil, and cast in a grayscale where no matter is simply black and white, I realized that like my project, I am made up of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of humanity. I am so many shades of gray, undefined by a solid, definitive color or label, and yet all I see is red.
I titled my project “Seeing Red” near the end of the process as I was creating the blindfold. I had read The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, and I remembered the scene in which a character said all humans bleed the same color, and yet bias and discrimination still plagues the minds of all human beings. Red is the color binding the whole of humanity together, in wickedness and in virtuousness; it defies race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political leanings, religion, borders, gender, and so many more social boundaries that keep groups of people detached from on another. The heart is bolded in red as well, conveying my theme by representing the heart of humanity and all of the traits we call flawed yet beautiful and “human” as originating from the heart. Red symbolizes love, hate, violence, passion, and mortality every human faces. Color is minimal in the photographs not because I am lazy and incompetent with color theory; no, it is because I wanted to maintain a simplistic presentation of my work, which is not at all simple. Nothing about human beings is simple, but being human is quite the opposite.
I utilized pages from books in my project such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. All of these literary works depict and analyze the human condition and human nature when faced with adversity, diversity, and ultimately, themselves. The pages from each book cloak my project in words and ideas that accurately represent humanity at its worst and its finest, which both must be present when portraying a human being. I find the patchy whites and grays contrasted with bold black and the chiaroscuro present in the photographs to be true to human nature – blacks and whites may be possible, but the grays in between are definite. To err is to be human, but so is to seek understanding and goodness.
The final, most arduous aspect of my project is the writing scrawled across the paper mâché exterior of it. I have translated the English term “human” into 90 differentlanguages, and I made the conscious decision to include both noun and adjective forms. I made a happy discovery and learned something new as I wrote out the word in languages such as German, Greek, Catalan, Sinhala, Hindi, Urdu, Afrikaans, Kannada, and several dozen more. I realized that in the adjective definitions of the translated word “human” most languages included positive words like “kind-hearted”, “compassionate”, “humane”, and “decent”, leading me to believe that despite the inherent capabilities to do evil, human beings have a miraculous ability to see the good in humanity and have faith that people are good at their core. I found this consistent trait among languages to be a strong addition to the symbolism in my piece, as well as a small source of hope for the human race.
I had to employ copious amounts of innovation to make this project happen. The mannequin was originally headless, so finding a styrofoam head and meticulously attaching it and aligning it was a frightening yet exciting solution. I made batches upon batches of homemade glue for the paper mâché aspect, and have nearly exhausted my brain for ideas of concept and theme. Yet here is my finished product, my symbol of humankind and being apart of it. Here is a tribute to the color that gives me hope.
Second Place, Senior – “Vines for Veins” by Ron Hertel | Christ Church Episcopal School | Greenville, SC
Part of what it means to be human is to be mindful of what’s happening in the world around you and work to make it better. Humans are not separate from nature or above it like gods; rather, we are key component of the natural balance. In order to improve the world, we must first improve ourselves. I think that bees are an example of how humans can pollinate the flowers of positivity and to plant those seeds where they usually would not dare to grow.
I decided to make something for myself that represents who I am as a person. I put everything I had into this piece for several weeks, sketching it, sculpting it, and glazing it, letting the work be therapeutic for me and giving myself a chance to reflect on my own identity. I chose to create an anatomical heart because of the medical background in my family as well as to represent the morbidity and tragedy of life that we often overlook.
The heart encompasses a honeycomb because I like that both hearts and beehives have chambers. While at first they seem to do almost completely different things, when you think about it, they both literally hold life-giving fluids necessary for survival; while some honeycomb chambers hold precious young bees, a person holds their loved ones in the chambers of their spiritual heart.
Each flower on the heart is special to me and represents an experience I’ve had or a place that I’ve been. The honey itself represents the positive energy and the love that I try to give to the world, and the bees illustrate the effort that I put into both trying to produce the positive energy and maintain the beautiful memories I have instead of forgetting them or letting them become bitter.
Humans can gain a lot of insight from bees about how to care for each other, work together, and how to find a balance between giving and taking from nature. Magic can be found in every species on earth. Perhaps we should focus less on what makes us different from other species and concentrate on how we can apply their positive attributes to ourselves.
Third Place, Senior – “Playing House” by May Jane Schechter | Brooklyn Prospect Charter School | Brooklyn, NY
What does it mean to be human? This is a question only a human would ask. We sleep, we breathe, we sing and dream and blink and grow and when we can’t anymore, we rot, we burn; we’re sent back to the water where life first emerged or back to the earth for the bugs and the worms. Just as flowers and fish and the mites that nest in eyelashes, we are woven into the cycle of living; but what makes us special? What makes us, as human beings, different? I believe it is the search for meaning. We are what we want, we are what we’re not, we are what we make, we are what we believe in. Even the nihilist keeps living for a reason. Humans, we are caught up in our own heads, wondering and ruminating and torturing over what it means to exist. To answer this prompt I focused on five aspects of the search for human meaning, and built homes for each, using dollhouses. I like dollhouses, I think they’re fascinating, and very visceral, like shrines devoted to human existence. Houses teach children how to play life; dolls, how to play self. This time, however, I wanted to see what the dollhouses could teach about playing human.
Idealism house: The first aspect of the human search for meaning emulated by the houses was idealism. Human beings dream and hope and wish so endlessly and fervently that idealism may grant humans the will to live, to transcend, to hew utopias, to fall in love. It’s the endless appeal of fairy tales, and the plight of every star-wisher, that somewhere over the rainbow, where the purple grass grows, there’s a place where all your dreams really do come true. Idealism house ended up being a massive pepto-bismol fabric Barbie castle, stitched at the bottom with fuzzy white clouds and terribly reminiscent of the angelic sky-palaces at the end of every Disney princess movie. For the photograph the house was speckled with paper butterflies and carried to the roof of my apartment building on this lovely sunny day, where a horde of party balloons shouting ‘Get Well Soon’ and ‘Princess’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ attempted to lift the castle into flight for the photograph. The element of flight was pertinent in this endeavor, as the notion of idealism is elevation, looking to the heavens to grant wishes and bring dreams. Unfortunately, even with the efforts of the butterflies and the helium balloons, idealism house did not float up beyond the hemisphere, and the final photograph owes its physics-defying magic to digital retouching. Is this a symbol, that the human search for meaning in happy endings is futile, that the only magic on earth is fabricated? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Miracles happen every moment, and must not be taken for granted – and if the human drive for idealism is hopeless, why has it survived? Hope is an inescapable consequence of humanity, and sometimes, with enough lucky stars and wishing wells, wildest desires truly can be granted.
The second house I photographed was nurture house. The urge to grow, to protect, to cultivate, is innate in human nature. Gardens, nurseries, hospitals, homes, we build shelters around ourselves and the things and creatures we love. Putting together this house made me a little nervous, and a little sad. For nurture house I harvested childish, soft objects, which were very fragile and looked at you in a way that made you want to take care of them. My father and I carried nurture house to the park across the street from our building, where I had spent a large span of my childhood. It had rained the day before, and the air was still grey and foggy and smelled like moss. Everything was silent as the grave, and very solemn, and we passed the waterfall and the boathouse and a little cabin which for some reason, when I was little, I was convinced was full of the bones of large animals. Nurture house was placed at the foot of a tree by the edge of a quiet walking path by the lake. Reindeer moss was spread beneath the gingham house as a blanket, even though the earth was already carpeted with wet fall leaves; I just wanted to be especially careful with the house, so that it wouldn’t get hurt or ruined. For the photograph the house was filled and surrounded by entities of safety and comfort – teacups, teddy bears, seashells, my family of succulents, a poppy sprout, a music box, dog bones slung over the roof, keeping guard; doe bones in the palm of Annabel Lee, my ballerina doll; a room full of raspberries which stained the cloth walls and made the dollhouse look like a massacre scene. My father said the house was beginning to resemble the grave of a small child – although this wasn’t my intent, it sort of made sense. The spot where the photos were taken was very lovely, and even the crowds of black fallen branches reaching clawishly around the edges of the area seemed nestlike. On the way back, a herd of ruffled grey swans drifted through the quiet side of the lake, and the leaves along the path looked like fallen stars; the entire day felt like a dream, and the photos feel like dreams as well. I think this makes sense, I think this is what the house wanted.
The third concept in this search for human meaning was mindless destruction. Just as we are able to create and protect without distinct logistical motivation, so are we able to destroy without purpose. We break bottles, roast ants under magnifying lenses, shoot at cans, tear wings off moths. Human beings have an eerie capability for destruction without meaning; it’s cathartic, hedonistic, satisfying. Destruction house was, by far, the trippiest dollhouse on eBay; carved from electric creamsicle plastic and wainscoted with eerie shades of lime and fuchsia, it was christened ‘acid house’ when it arrived in the mail.When I asked the house if I could burn it, it said okay. In a friend’s garden, we spent an evening stuffing destruction house with dead leaves and twigs and tossing matches through the windows. The house kindled steadily, and by the time the flames screamed through the upper story I was snapping photos blind, the garden filling with this awful black-lung smog. This photograph of destruction house was the last taken before the house was put out; it’s in this picture, I believe, one can see the spirits of the house escaping, under the veil of smoke. Once the fire was smothered with a bucketful of water, destruction house sat gaping and rotted, all melted at the edges, looking like the victim of a nuclear alien apocalypse, like something gutted, but gorgeous, unearthly. Acid house became beautiful once it was burned. Perhaps that’s the double edge of the anarchists’ blade: sometimes, the most beautiful things come from the most ugly.
The dollhouse used to emulate the human proclivity for faith was picked up off the street the very same day I photographed idealism house – it must have been an omen, or a gift from serendipity. This house was built, in part, as a prayer to whichever saint of chance happenings delivered it to me. Faith is an inescapable part of being human. We all pray to something, deities or dreams, we pledge allegiance to consumer culture and cult leaders, we bow our heads in pews and polling booths, in hospitals and laboratories and libraries. Faith house is filled with symbols and totems: devout objects. Faith house was originally a puritan beige, spartan as a monk’s quarters. It seemed to be waiting to transcend itself, so I gave it a boost toward the heavens: on its right half, I painted a night sky, studded with some of the loveliest constellations, among them Cassiopeia, Pegasus and the Pleiades (my favorites), on its left, I painted a daytime soup full of clouds and strange cute little newspaper-cut-out deities. Inside the house is an arsenal of tiny shrines and effigies: the velvet baby-tooth casket I had made for an orange ladybug which had died last summer behind the mirror, a little mirror-box for teeth and bones and chakra stones, a box of matches, a rhinestone temple of Narcissus. Faith house is refuge to Christ, Buddha, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man merged with the pentagram of Solomon, my mother’s string of pearls, and the leather prayer bracelet of a dear friend who is a devout Catholic. I like to think of faith house as sort of a roadhouse for totems; not every representative from every faith is here to visit, but all that are are welcome and friendly with one another. Faith house’s proprietress is the pale-gowned angel of purgatories and limbos, who rests at the center of the house’s two halves. Faith house was photographed on the sill of the stained glass window in the hallway of my apartment building. I had initially wanted to sneak into a church to take the picture, but that didn’t quite pan out, and in the daylight, this seemed as good a place for a temple as any.
The last facet of being human that I focused on in this project was fear. Humans are absolutely riddled with fear; we’re plagued by phobias primal, irrational, and surreal. People are petrified of dolls and hands and thunderstorms, of demons and angels, sleeping and waking and stars and infinity and floods. Fear house is a cough-syrup pink Hello Kitty dollhouse rescued from the neighbor’s trash last year, and its disposition is so naturally sweet that making it over slasher-film style was very fun, sort of like dressing up on Halloween. When I was very young, I believed my dolls moved around in their house at night; I suppose, however, I’m one of the only ones who was comforted by this notion. I filled fear house with the most human of fears, in strange and dreamy incarnations: a hammered-up doll fridge is crawling with plastic spiders, and toy rats play amongst the strawberry doll cakes. Upstairs, while the bathtub fills itself with googly eyes, a little circus-poster ode to Joseph Merrick, the ‘elephant man’, watches over the house, a reminder for the everyman of the quintessential human terror – being unusual. In the baby’s bedroom, the terrors of death and the monster under the bed converge beneath the rat’s bones coat-of-arms. In the end, all of the little toy elements of innocence and fear looked a little silly, like a nursery-school nightmare, but I sort of liked it; aren’t the most childish nonsense fears the most real, the most human? Fear house was photographed on a stack of these gorgeous rusting radiators left alone in the boiler room (a befitting location, I think, being the realm of the patron saint of slasher movies, Freddy Krueger), lit by candles and surrounded by spooky tree-branch tendrils, like a creepy ritual forest, and the flash-bleached interior of fear house gives it a crime-scene edge. The house, like that entire night, seemed caught off-guard; sneaking barefooted up and down the staircases from the highest story of the building to the basement, dollhouse in my arms, boiler-room ash smudged across my knees, I found myself frightened – of the basement ghosts, of tripping and smashing the plastic house to bits, of being caught tangled and nightgown-clad by a speculative neighbor. And then I thought, how silly, how human of me.
First Place, Underclass – “Design the Unconventional, Seek the Uncommon” by Jordan Varat | Christ Church Episcopal School | Greenville, SC
Being human is all about making mistakes and pushing boundaries. As a human race, we would be unable to make progress without trying new things and seriously failing. Keeping this in mind, I decided that I wanted to create something amazing by doing something totally wrong. Our society has set standards to follow in order to complete a task correctly… But why should we be limited to doing the same thing every time we go about a task? Traditionally, pottery was made purely by hand for functional purposes, but over time ceramics has evolved into an amazing art form that can be manipulated by man and machine. In middle school, I learned how to properly throw a pot on the wheel: roll the clay into a ball; smooth it with your hands, beware of air bubbles, center the clay, secure the clay to the bat, have a bucket of water next to you as well as various tools, keep your hands firm, don’t move around, etc. All of these commands enable you to create a nice pot or vase or bowl or whatever you choose to make. But why create a nice piece of art when you can take chances, apply new techniques, travel outside your boundaries, and create something amazing. So I decided to come up with my own, unconventional way of throwing on the wheel. As we have established, being human is breaking the rules, pushing boundaries, developing your own techniques, etc; but being human is also about being aware of what the world offers. There are a million different ways to do everything, but only one or two of them might be acknowledged. Unfortunately, many methods have been lost throughout time because they have been neglected and haven’t been practiced. Having applied the two considerations of designing the unconventional and seeking the uncommon, I decided to try a new form of glazing called raku. I was inspired by a local artist to pursue this engaging way of glazing. Having combined my new way of throwing with an unfamiliar way of glazing, after completing this new and exciting process I had three creations of my own.
Second Place, Underclass – “Elicit Minds: Our Humanity Lies Within Our Words” by Irmina Benson, Vitina Benson, and Cecilia Grassi | Roseland University Prep | Santa Rosa, CA
Our names are Irmina Benson, Vitina Benson and Cecilia Grassi. We currently attend Roseland University Prep in Northern California. When we first were introduced to the project we were lost. We had not the slightest clue about how a couple girls living in our town could come up with the answer to a question not even the most renowned scientist could produce. We pondered for weeks on what made humans who they are. We attempted to identify what in our lives made us feel the most human. We asked ourselves, “What have we seen, done or felt in our lives that showed us who were are?” We knew it was going to be hard to attempt to decipher one of the most complex questions in our existence. We considered everything from self evolution, to the idea that we can love without being loved in return. Even with all of these thoughts swimming around in our heads, nothing seemed to be “the answer.” What we knew for sure is that humans throughout time have been considered the most pioneering of all species, from forming the first fires and tools to building the tallest structures on earth. Humans have made their mark on not only this world but on the universe. They have demonstrated the unique ability to create innovative, abstract ideas and manifest them into tools that alter life on the planet. After a while, we finally came to our conclusion. We knew there were many things to choose from, but we decided that the thing that makes us human, the most natural thing that we do, is to intentionally use words to evoke emotional and physical responses from those around us.
Physically, the chemistry in the human brain changes when we speak or are spoken to. We can change the entire chemistry of someone’s brain just by saying hello, or by giving them a compliment. Words can make us cry and laugh and smile, setting off neurotransmitters in the brain that in return releases chemicals such as Endorphins and Dopamine that ultimately affects all cells and body structures.
In our documentary, we set out to show that when a person who is under emotional stress enters a room and is treated warmly and kindly, a noticeable physical change will result. To demonstrate our hypothesis, we gathered several subjects and told them they were going to be interviewed for a film. We didn’t tell them what the film was about or what we would be asking them. We wanted to catch their emotional and physical responses to our words in the rawest state possible. Once we had them sit down, we asked them how they felt, and gave them a few compliments, and by doing so we captured our truth on live film. In the film, the subjects either smiled or showed discomfort when given compliments, but once the interviews were done, most of them felt entirely different from when they walked in.
As a result of this project, we have come to conclude that while many species communicate with one another, what makes us humans special is our ability to express how we feel to one another with words alone, and in return we are able to elicit a response that actually alters another person’s brain chemistry. We humans have the unique potential to alter another person’s entire experience of the world with just a few words, and that is what sets us apart so notably from other living things.
Third Place, Underclass – “Rhythms of the Mind” by Evelina Soloveicik | Christ’s Church Episcopal School | Greer, SC
This project, for me, is a way to express personality of each individual. My aim is to convey to others how something as shapeless as clay can be molded into a symbol of humanity. While engaging in this challenge, I learned that being human means to understanding our emotions allows us to not only to express them but to apprehend the fast-moving world around us.
I challenged myself to make a musical soundtrack for the first time with my instrument. Recordings of me playing the clay instrument over piano, guitar and modern electronic beats created the peaceful rhythm that overcame the chaotic city life around me. For someone like me who has never played an instrument, creating calm cords on a computer felt artificial, therefore I inserted some upbeat and destruction rhythms to portray the different emotions. My final audio file shows how the pure blown notes eliminate the disorganized anarchy.
The prompt for this year’s Beautiful Minds Challenge sparks so many ideas for me that I could not identify one thought to delve deeply into. Instead, I thought that I would present a variety of concepts that I hope will spark your creativity as you ponder the prompt — Human being: being human. Capture truth.
“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” -Hippocrates
Keeping creatures alive shows that we care about others and are not entirely self-focused. But does Hippocrates consider all animals under the umbrella of humanity, or only human beings?
“The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity.” -Friedensreich Hundertwasser
An argument against rigidity and fundamentalism. It seems that American media has a tendency to sensationalize these viewpoints, and that the flexible (humanistic?) voices are often silenced.
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” -Billy Joel
I have heard that music is the universal language. How does music unite humans? Why do bird and whale songs sound so musical to human ears – and are they purely communication for those species or might they view the sounds they make as beautiful as music?
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” -Horace Mann
Mann expresses that a life worth living is one that serves your fellow man and not just yourself.
“Everyone smiles in the same language.” ~Author Unknown
There is debate as to whether this quote is factually true, but I’m not concerned with that. It is the sentiment that speaks to my views on humanity; what it is that makes us human. In my 35 years on this earth, I have travelled to 5 continents and over 25 countries. My experiences traveling always bring me back to the idea of a shared humanity, and more specifically the human to human connection. Cultures and customs, architecture and landscape, food and language are wonderfully varied and often what one seeks when traveling. But as cliché as it sounds, the best moments I’ve had while visiting other places are rooted in the people I met there.
Sharing a laugh or a smile with someone translates – human connection is made. I tend to believe that most people operate from this perspective. We seek the connection. We realize that our own humanity is intimately linked to the people in our lives. Human interactions are like a web, we cannot exist without others. It’s how we grown and learn. It’s how we develop empathy for others. Humans live in community because without it we become lost. We feel the fullest expression of ourselves, when we feel connected.
Human being: being human – is not singular, it relies on connection. This is my truth.
All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.
Resurrection of Art by Andrew Connelly | Easthampton High School | Easthampton, MA
My submission to the Beautiful Minds “Creation Out of Destruction” Challenge is entitled “Resurrection of Art”. I took inspiration for my piece from the artwork of Joan Miró. Miró’s art went through a phase he titled as “assassination of art”, in which he showed the cruel realities of life in his paintings, by burning, cutting, or even pouring tar onto his canvas. This created sour, yet somehow beautiful pieces, where the destruction of the canvas created a texture and depth that traditional painting could not achieve.
For my submission, I extended upon my prior knowledge of Joan Miró’s art career, and learned more of the history behind his destructive artwork. I also learned about different definitions of the word “destruction”. By asking my subjects to write any sort of words that they associated with destruction, I was able to observe how their ideas of “destructive” words differed from the words I thought of as “destructive”. In addition, I got to observe how they thought of different ways to turn their canvas beautiful than I would have thought of. I was able to use the Beautiful Minds Challenge to learn about the beauty within the minds of my peers, which was a very interesting experience.
Finally, I was able to truly create beauty out of destruction. This was the best learning experience, because although it was the objective, I hoped to achieve in the end, to successfully create works that I was proud of taught me much about both art and the way we as humans see the world.
“EXHIBITIONS.” MoMA. N.p., 2 Nov. 2008. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
“JoanMiro.net.” Joan Miro Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Johnson, Ken. “Filtering Miró’s Work Through a Political Sieve.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Kennicott, Philip. “Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 6 May 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Kramer, Hilton. “The New Criterion.” Miró’s paradox: what happened after the “death of painting” by Hilton Kramer -. Version 7. N.p., 1 Jan. 1989. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Project Zero by Janelle Kesner | Gann Academy | Lexington, MA
“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” – Steve Maraboli
My goal is to create something out of destruction.
Project Zero, Turning Patient Zero Into Zero Patients.
I learned that the media has an overwhelming thumbprint on the pulse of how people are informed. Their thumbprint helps shape our understanding and interest. Had I not had a personal connection to what was happening in West Africa, I too would have shaped my understanding solely on the viewpoint of the media. When my brother Kieran, a photojournalist, went to capture the effect of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, fear immediately enveloped our family.
Kieran was vulnerable to something that could potentially change our lives forever. An invisible threat overwhelmed us. Fear for his safety was a major concern but our family learned many things about Ebola and its destruction, before, during and after his time in West Africa. From life-saving supplies to understanding how to navigate Liberian culture all contributed to my understanding of this destructive virus. Kieran documented real people that were truly suffering and he risked his life to do it. Had I relied solely on the media I would never have understood the devastating impact Ebola has had. This knowledge and The Beautiful Minds Challenge gave me a reason to do something more.
Continue reading Janelle’s submission by clicking the PDF link below:
Don’t Fear Decay, It Happens Every Day by Marta Piper | Community High School | Ann Arbor, MI
This piece is a self portrait made of leaves that I collected as I walked to school. Leaves slowly decay and over time, so the leaves forming my face in the portrait will decay too, just like what will happen to all living things eventually. Decomposition is a very slow sort of destruction, one that can take decades or centuries to complete. This is exactly why I like it so much. I takes a while to decompose a plant or animal after it dies and nothing can be done to stop the process. It can be delayed and it can also be sped up, but the slow destruction of organic matter will always win in the end.
I picked out the leaves for this piece earlier this fall when the leaves were just falling. I picked up whatever leaf I thought looked particularly beautiful and when I got to school and sat in class, I had the idea to make the leaves into something instead of just watching them disintegrate on my bedroom floor with all the other random things I pick up on my walks. I wanted to make these leaves into something and let that something breakdown naturally, slowly destroying the art I worked to make. As you can tell, I really like ginkgo leaves because I had enough to make the whole background out of only them. They fascinate me because the ginkgo tree is one of the oldest types of tree to survive this long, dating back millions of years. But that was just an added bonus to my piece seeing as I wasn’t really paying attention to what leaves I was picking up at the time.
I find it so fascinating that the slow break down of these leaves will lead to the inevitable destruction of this piece of art. If I had chosen plastic leaves, the meaning of the piece would be drastically different because plastics take decades longer to even start to decay compared to leaves which can decay in a few years. Of course using synthetically created leaves would guarantee a long lasting piece, but I was willing to give up this piece of art to be able to see it decompose right in front of my own eyes. I decided to take a picture of the piece every few months to record the slow process until the leaves are completely gone, or as close as possible seeing as the glue may affect the speed of the decomposition process. I took this picture of the piece a week after I finished it. I could already see that the pigmentation was much duller and the leaves were becoming more brittle and some even broke off when I moved it, which is why it already looks patchy. I love how fragile the whole piece is because it reminds me that when I die I will be ever so slowly broken down just like these leaves that I arranged to look like me.
The me made of leaves and the me made of flesh will both eventually decompose to become soil where new life will grow from our old nutrients which is such a humbling thing to think of because no matter what we are, we will all just decompose and be formed into something new. In the end it doesn’t matter how many people you dated, what clothes you wore, or that you ate a lot of food all the time because we will all just be slowly destroyed by our own bacteria when we die so we can give one last thing to the planet we lived on. It doesn’t even matter what animal or plant you were because all our molecules will just mix up and form a new home for others to grow.
I chose to make it a self portrait because the way I feel about decomposition is very personal. I love to think that my inevitable destruction will fuel new life. I don’t know of many others who feel this way, so I made it of myself so I can see my self decompose as leaves and know that I’ll do that someday and maybe one of the trees I used leaves from to create this piece will grow from where I was buried. People have told me it’s morbid and weird to think like this, but I disagree. I believe that we shouldn’t fear the destruction and instead embrace it because it happens to literally every living thing. It shouldn’t be a scary thing to give back to the planet that raised you. You are ensuring life in the future just as all living things that decayed before you did to give you this life.
The Destruction of a Beautiful Mind by Tatianna Noriega | North Kingstown High School | North Kingstown, RI
Living in a world where the need to be perfect outweighs the need to love ourselves, our imperfections can cause us to tear ourselves down. Eating away at you from the inside out, all of your short comings and inadequacies are magnified under your own scrutinizing eyes. I was all too familiar with destruction when I was presented with the prompt for the Beautiful Minds challenge. However the destruction I see every day is not the kind you see on the late night news or the product of earthquakes and war. I see it in girls who stare in their mirrors and pinch the skin around their waist telling themselves they are not beautiful. You can see it in the bloodshot eyes of a student who has pushed themselves to brink and cares more about their GPA than their health. I see it in myself and others who take their talents and smother them under fear of rejection and ridicule. All while telling ourselves the lie that we are not good enough. Victims of self-destruction often become victims for life, and rarely break the chains that hold them back. Self-destruction accounts for the average of one suicide every 40 seconds and the 1 in 10 adults that suffer from depression. I believe that we all have something to offer this world and the prompt given for this challenge inspired me to show just that.
As an artist I spend much of my time trying to create a piece of work that conveys my thoughts and emotions. However many of these projects are scraped and buried deep within my closet. The more time I spend on a piece the more I start to hate everything about it. My mind becomes a destructive force that strangles my self-confidence and picks apart details that I was originally proud of. It is not long before the magnitude of my self-loathing becomes a treacherous sea, and like a cowardice captain I abandon my sinking ship. However I decided to take a new approach. Using pieces of my shipwreck, I decided to create something new. I dived to the depths of my closet and dredged up my old, forgotten, and failed art pieces. To complete this challenge I set to work to create a sculpture, from the product of my self-destruction, which I felt embodied the mystic and stunning splendor of a beautiful mind that every person has to offer. Using old canvas frames I painted them gold and arranged them in a way that I felt represented the complexity of thought and imagination. Using pages from books that I had used in previous sculptures I crafted flowers, butterflies, and the wings of various creatures. The pages represent the power that words can have and if you let them they can blossom into unexpected beauty, lifting hopes and dreams to new heights. Out of old clay I sculpted a dragon and snake. These creatures and other reptiles are often connected to the idea of destruction and evil. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to show that destruction can be manipulated, much like clay, into something beautiful and it can often offer a clean sleight and new perspective. Inspired by the video prompt’s mention of a phoenix, the last piece of my sculpture was a small bird. Birds are representation of hope and courage and in this piece the bird’s petite size is a reminder that any amount of faith in yourself will result in success.
Although I created this sculpture to be an inspiration and reminded to others of what they are capable of and the wonder they hold, this became a challenge and reminder for myself. I became Atlas every time I picked up my paint brush and I felt the sky being placed upon my shoulders. My mind became a war-zone and peace was non-negotiable. Too many times I felt like waving the white flag and surrendering to my misgivings. However I stayed strong and held my ground during enemy fire. If I did not finish this sculpture I was saying that the beautiful minds lost to our own self-destructive forces are collateral damage. We can be our own worst enemy and I had to prove that we can make peace with ourselves and create something wonderful.
The challenge and journey that the Beautiful Minds contest offered me a way not only to show that something can be created out of destruction, but it also allowed me to grow as a person. Moments like that are too few and far and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.
Cathedral Pine by Yasi Zeichner | Vermont Technical College | Northfield, VT
Before writing the Cathedral Pine essay, I’d never thought I could find so much good in the destruction of a fallen tree. Whenever I see a huge deadfall like that Cathedral Pine, I am in awe of its size when seen on the ground, and of the incredible force it must have taken to tear those roots out of the Earth. But until now, I have mostly seen the surface value of the destruction, and not the deeper and long-term benefits that can occur.
The most beautiful thing to me about the Cathedral Pine is that it keeps giving, through its destruction. It continues to provide for the needs of the resident wildlife. And the kids on the land at the EarthWalk nature program love that tree; not a week goes by that they don’t visit it. I am now in awe of the hidden beauty in this fallen pine; the intricate root pattern that was hidden below the ground, and the new value that it brings to that place in the woods for both animals and people. Isn’t this how all life should be? A cycle; a continuation of giving, even after death.
The Next Generation by Emily Golchini | Brookfield Academy | Brookfield, WI
Technology is frequently viewed as a destructive force on our younger generations. When “Google” searches override grabbing a history book and physically researching information, there is no denying that skills such as manual research and reading are becoming less necessary in our current day society. Although these skills can be argued necessary for supreme intelligence, the skills technology teaches us such as socializing and responsibility are also life lessons and skills that can be argued equally beneficial. During the production of this art piece, I’ve learned to see both point of views through the eyes of both sides, the younger and the older generations.
Like anything else, technology has its pros and cons; technology can be destructive, but in most cases the positive effects outweigh the destruction. If the computer screens and iPhone start buttons were solely hurtful, the majority of parents wouldn’t let their children or even themselves to be buried into these screens for an average of two and a half hours every day. We argue and blame technology for our dysfunctional relationships and immobile children, but without these screens, who’s to say the same problems wouldn’t find other methods to arise?
Technology is growth and change, and it has been this way since the Enlightenment Era: change is always scary at first, but who’s to say it isn’t for the best?
Autumn Angel by Angela Hertel | Christ Church Episcopal School | Greenville, SC
I think that my submission is beautiful because it takes a hard situation and turns it into a metaphor for processes in nature. Instead of looking at a downfall in my life as something that only happens once and has to be completely devastating, I changed my perspective and started thinking of it like falling leaves. In order for spring to come, winter must take its course. Things may seem completely destroyed, but that ultimately yields to an even more strikingly beautiful comeback. I think that I captured this quite well in constructing a pair of wings with autumn leaves. With the broken pieces of my downfall, I managed to fly.
Epiphany by Luisa Andrade| Escola Parque | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“We celebrated every moment
of our meetings as epiphanies,
just we two in the whole world.
Bolder, lighter than a bird’s wing,
you hurtled like vertigo
down the stairs, leading
through moist lilac to your realm
beyond the mirror (…).”
-Arseny Tarkovsky, “First Meetings”.
When having an aesthetical experience, all of our rational faculties seem turbid in a kind of ecstasy. As we feel so intensively, it becomes hard to grasp the origin of our pleasure and consequently, we get to regard those incredible instants as unexplainable. But even though it is hard to understand the cause of our feelings, there are some important questions that I feel that should be answered. First of all, why do we feel pleasure in aesthetical experiences? What is the origin of our pleasure? Moreover, is there something that repeats itself in every experience, like a foundation for all aesthetics?
Let’s imagine a scene. We are now in the countryside; we lie down on the grass and look above to the starry night sky. We so realize how numerous and infinite the stars seem, and we feel thrilled by this realization. It is really fascinating that we feel a calm and true pleasure during this moment, as we could rather feel torment by the star`s infiniteness. The reason for this is that we feel that although it is impossible for us to grasp all this hugeness and have a complete image of all the existing stars, we can still think about them. We get to realize how limited our cognitive faculties are, but for a brief second we get to feel that our imagination isn’t. This experience repeats itself throughout time, when we look at a calm sea with an infinite horizon or when we look at huge mountains that also seem beyond our rational possibilities. In these experiences with the infinite, it is as if we could fully imagine this infinite object and so, transcend our intellectual or rational limitations.
Immanuel Kant, 18th century philosopher, conceptualized this experience as the sublime and, specifically the one with the infinite, as the mathematical sublime. We can say that the experience of the sublime is that in which we get to transcend our own physical or intellectual limitations throughout ideas or moral feelings. In the mathematical, in which we get to transcend our intellectual limitations, we find nature to be impossible to represent, but, still, we get a momentary feeling of transcendence throughout our imagination.
Moreover, Kant also conceptualized a different kind of sublime: the dynamic sublime. For him, the dynamic sublime occurs when we experience the transcendence of our own physical dependence when facing a huge power. For instance, let`s imagine that I am under a heavy thunderstorm and that there is a friend next to me who is even more terrified than I am. Although this very huge power that lies beneath the clouds can do almost anything against me, it can`t do anything to my morality or my love for my friend. In this sense, even though I can also be trembling at the thought of a thunder, I can still protect my friend and help him to relax; telling him that it all will be fine. In this regard, the dynamic sublime is the experience in which we get in touch with our own empirical limitations and, at the same time, it is as if we could transcend these physical limits throughout love or morality. We get to forget that we are physically limited, because we can only feel our rational or moral elevation. Even though we`re still mortal, weak and fearful, during the fragile and incredible moment of the sublime, it is as if these limitations do not really exist and we get to feel that we can expand ourselves infinitely.
So we find that there is an answer for the questions I asked in the beginning: why do we feel pleasure in aesthetical experiences? In his conceptualization, Kant found something universal that explained the origin of our pleasure: the sensation of transcendence. But what about the second question, regarding the foundation of all aesthetical experiences?
In the first example, while experiencing the mathematical sublime, we forgot about how limited we really are and how our rationality fails to grasp all the hugeness in the universe. In the second example, while experiencing the dynamic sublime, we got to momentarily destroy all the memories and thoughts about our own weakness and it was in this incredible destruction that we could be thrilled by the experience with the limitless. In this sense, I believe that there is a possible aesthetical foundation: it is the sentence “as if”. But what does it mean, precisely? It means a momentary destruction that allows us to feel the transcendence of our limitations.
This calm destruction allows us to see the world as if it was in accordance to our feelings but it is, in fact, just “as if” it was in accordance. This destruction makes us forget the unbearableness of sorrow in tragedies and makes us believe that, during the sublime, we’re limitless, although we are still fearful and weak. It is a voluntary redemption to our past experiences, a possibility of reconstruction. And it is only when we can allow ourselves to this complete openness and forgetfulness that we can experience something so beautiful.
When I wrote “epiphany” I wanted to retreat this calm and even voluntary destruction. My intention was to grasp a moment of lucid forgetfulness, as I believe this experience repeats itself in every aesthetical sentiment.
I have lived that evening over and over again and now that the poem is written it all seems as one unified moment. A conglomerate of memories becomes one single and fragile instant, maybe not more than two minutes of reading. Tarkovsky, a Russian filmmaker, said that filming for him was sculpting in time. I think that this is true for all arts.
In that brief moment that repeated itself throughout time, it was as if the world opened itself to me. And it seemed so ordered, so calm! Nothing was out of its belonged place, nothing was unknowable or irrational. Everything seemed to reveal itself in its true essence as the evening ended and the sky surrounded us, sheltering the land. There was a feeling of transcendence, especially in alterity. Everything appeared to be suspended from time and space, flowing calmly as if in a light and unreal dream. It was as if nothing had ever happened before, and forgetting about time, I really felt some kind of timelessness.
I’ve lived some moments, not many, as epiphanies. They were instants when I seemed to be lucid and dazed at the same time, yet it all seemed to make such sense! My intention in writing “epiphany” was to capture this very delicate and fragile moment of destruction, in which everything seemed to be resumed in the present instant and the world seemed to be so calm and so full of lightness.
epiphany (click here to open a PDF of Luisa’s poem “Epiphany”)
Trash Cans by Sierra Siebold | Battlefield High School | Haymarket, VA
The classic saying says that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. However, in this particular case, one persons old encyclopedias from the seventies are one another persons collage material. With various advancements in education and access to literature over the years, numerous books such as atlases and encyclopedias have become obsolete due to widespread access of the internet, as most schools encourage online information gathering through databases that are easier to navigate than a large, bulky, outdated book. However, just because the information is quite dated, it does not mean that these old records of information are useless, as they can be used to create images that illustrate our modern day society.
These paint cans have been decorated with these discarded dumpster-bound encyclopedia’s pages in order to display current aspects of our society. These themes include the censorship of art, strain on the environment, space exploration, war, and religion. The usage of these trashed books shows that the information within their pages are not entirely useless.
The Phoenix Effect by Freideric Handelmann| Homer Senior High School | Homer, NY
The phoenix effect is the medical term for a patient pulling out of cardiac arrest or a coma. Such a term describes exactly what I have come to experience in the course of this project. It has truly been an eye opening experience as I explored the ideas behind both creation and destruction. It has revealed many things, be they new to me or ever present without my recognition. In the end the most important of these to me, and even seemingly life itself, is hope.
I chose to make this project completely out of materials from demolition sites. Recycling the material allowed me to dive even deeper into the power behind this project. Taking something broken and turning it into something useful or meaningful, it is a powerful feeling. It has made me think in new perspectives of what has, will, and can be. Each piece of this sculpture has its own story to tell and together they are able to convey the message that all hope is not lost, even in the depths of despair some light can shine through.
Humans differ from other creatures on this planet in one main way, the capability to hope. Hope is what allows for change, its what drives individuals to make a difference, to stand up for what is right. It is only through hope that creation can come out of destruction. It was what was left at the bottom when Pandora opened the box that allowed people to bear the other evils unleashed. Hope is what this project has taught me.
The sculpture is rich with symbolism, each piece serving its own part to convey the simple message: never give up hope. The phoenix effect is the epitome of this, a person holds on to hope and is able to pull away from death itself. Hope is a gift, that’s what people need to learn. We are so special in that we can look toward the future with dreams, but we are also so in that these dreams can fall apart. In the end it doesn’t matter the hell raining down upon you, though, lose hope and you’ll lose it all. Hope is life, what’s life without hope?
Stars by Sabrina Konick | 21st Century Cyber Charter School | Philadelphia, PA
Destruction is something that we are taught to fear. From the time we are young we are told it is a form of evil and that nothing ever comes from it. Being who I am and with the family I have, I know this couldn’t be further from the truth. Destruction hurts, but it reveals things in ourselves that other things cannot. Destruction helps to create strength, wisdom, and stronger relationships. My dad nearly dying in a car accident, my poor excuse for self worth when I was younger, and my ADD that has caused so many communication barriers and feelings of isolationism have all been instrumental in the development of my family and myself. Without my Grandfather’s death I would still be hiding my artwork away from the world. Without my bad self worth I would never have been able to become the much stronger person I am today. Without my dad’s accident my family would not be as important and close as it is now. Even the destructive tendencies of my ADD like miscommunication have taught me how amazing the people who try to keep up with me are. I have dealt with both self destruction and destruction from outside forces; while it was unpleasant and painful it made me into a much stronger person. When I heard the prompt for this competition I knew I needed to do something to reflect all the things that destruction has taught me. A few days later I found some old drawing and journals and I noticed that a lot of them were from the darkest times in my life so I wanted to create something with them. When my grandfather died it marked the beginning of the darkest time in my life. One thing I remembered my mom telling us during that time was that his last name meant, “littlest star” so I began to think of all the things that stars make up. They make up galaxies and are essential to create solar systems. They make black holes and the particles of their remains even make up everything here on earth. So maybe every bout of destruction I endured was another star that made up who I am. This sculpture contains hundreds of origami stars from those journals, pictures, and drawings. Those stories and memories are what make me who I am. This project has reminded me of just how far I have come in only a few short years. It has reminded me that the destruction of others also affects those around them. This project has enforced the knowledge in me to not be afraid because while destruction may be harmful, good always manages to come of it in one way or another.
Son of a Bitter Divorce by David Miller | William T. Dwyer Community High School | Jupiter, FL
I wrote and created a five minute video titled,Son Of A Bitter Divorce. I started the project worrying that the subject matter, my parents divorce, would be viewed a cliche and disavowed by the folks at Marlboro College. Sixty hours into the project, I found myself so devoted to my little film for myself and for all of the kids out there who bore witness to the crashing and burning of their parents coupledom.
This project allowed me to see my mom and dad as people, not just parents. I got them to talk to me honestly about tough things (though treading lightly so as not to hurt my feelings or incriminate themselves), and I came to realize that neither my mother or father has all of the answers. This realization confirmed another that I had made previously to me– no one has all of the answers– everyone is just trying to sort things out.
By interviewing my parents I got a string of accounts that left me scratching my head and wondering who really was at fault. In the end, I concluded that when emotions are involved, getting to the truth is an impossible assignment. My parents best intentions were overtaken by their individual unresolved histories and painful past experiences. There was an alcoholic father on my mom’s side and a verbally abusive mother on my dad’s side. That neither of my parents had resolved their painful pasts before they took the plunge gave their marriage a limited shelf life.
By participating in the Beautiful Minds Challenge, I learned that I cannot change another person, but I can change myself. I can better look at an issue from another person’s side. I can commit to not acting based on my moods. I can steer clear of negativity, toxicity, and dysfunction. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be bitter, I can just use all of these experiences to continue to grow.
Remains by Lydia Nuhfer | Hybrid Education of Greater Atlanta | Tucker, GA
Percy Shelly, in his poem Ozymandias, speaks on permanence, destruction, and change. The poem illustrates the link between the concept of eternity and the reality of destruction and decay. I have always found truth in the poem, and for thirteen year old me, destruction came in the form of mental illness. This piece, titled Remains, was inspired by the years during which depression and anorexia changed me, and the new, more authentic self that grew from my self-destructive past. Each piece of the collage holds significant and personal meaning, and the project was a difficult but rewarding exercise in letting go.
The background of the collage is composed of items and documents that held the greatest meaning to me at a time when I was tearing myself apart. I filled the white space with letters my father sent me when I was first hospitalized for anorexia and suicidal tendencies. On top of those I pasted love notes from my partner at the time and blog posts I made trying to make sense of what I was feeling. I cut up and scattered poems I wrote during that time about my gender identity, my scars, my eating disorder, and the overwhelming feeling of being trapped. Although I have not written in many months, reading these poems while I created this piece provoked a desire to write again. Even the destruction that the poems represent instills in me a sense of creation and artistic expression. Finally, I bordered the piece with burned paper, symbolizing the part of my life that fell to ash and paved the way for a new chapter.
To paint the central part of the piece, the hands, I wanted to do something more creative and symbolic than watercolor. I learned how paint was once made from ashes, and mixed my own, the ash representing ruin. After painting the hands, I detailed them with veins, leaves, and flowers. The bandaged wrists gradually transforming into blossoms was one of the most emotional aspects to create. For years I self harmed, stuck in a pattern of lapses, relapses, and collapses. From that pain, though, I am transforming myself and building a healthier life.
Things are very different now than they were two years ago. I’m properly medicated and in therapy, and it’s been many months since my last relapse. I am proudly trans and queer, and open about all facets of my identity. I do not see myself as a different person now than I was then, rather a wiser one, continuing to flesh myself out through experiences and interactions. Creating Remains was part of that journey. I began to recall elements of myself that I buried long ago. Although I have always seen my depression as a negative force, I found myself smiling while reading through old papers, reminiscing upon the wonderful support I had and the tenacity and strength I found within myself. The creation of this piece helped me to view my past from a different angle and not as something to attempt to forget. I can see myself now, instead, like the trees that grow after a forest fire- stretching towards the light, my way cleared. I have found room for my roots to spread.
You Can’t Take Away Someone’s Beliefs by Ethan Blair| High Mowing School | Wilton, NH
I was in Tibet this summer traveling with a Tibetan medicine group. Often, when we were in a large Tibetan city, we were the only white people there. We were interviewed by police multiple times, sometimes by undercover police. I was arrested once. One of my friends was using a VPN at one point to contact his friends back home on Facebook and the police tracked him down and stopped us on the street and smashed his sim card and phone. It was almost impossible to leak information about the situation in Tibet.
I was attending a gathering in a small nomadic village in the heights of Tibet where around two hundred yogis were reading the Tibetan book the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The yogis would wake up early and stay up late reading a sacred text, keeping their culture alive.
I was staying with a very hospitable Tibetan family. I never believed in or understood enlightenment and meditation until I met the grandmother and grandfather of this family. They had spent five years of their life together in retreat in a cave on a mountain four miles from their village. It’s hard to put into words, but there was something about them that I had never felt in anyone before.
One day my mother was showing the grandmother a movie on the computer. I am not sure what movie it was, but the Dalai Lama comes on the screen and the old woman broke into tears when she saw him. We didn’t really understand why at the time. The whole family crowded around the screen. The teenaged girl ran and locked the door. When I looked at all of their faces, I realized that they were crying tears of joy. Later we found out that hit was the first time in around thirty years that they old woman had seen an image of the Dalai Lama because the Chinese many years back had banned photos of the Dalai Lama.
This photo is of one of the celebrations that went on during the time I was in that village. The photo says more than a thousand words—it shows that no matter what the Chinese do, they can never take away the Tibetans’ beliefs.
Flying Through the Changes by Matthew Lemonier | New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts | Slidell, LA
This Challenge made me change who I am for the better.
It was the night of November 6th when I was checking my inbox and learned about the 2014 Beautiful Minds Challenge. I was intrigued and confused by the prompt. I remember seeing the deadline and thinking to myself how I’d lose a lot of sleep if I wanted to complete this within less than a month while balancing all other work in my life. These initial thoughts were specifically why I took on this Challenge. It would require me to learn about the prompt I was completely ignorant of and push me to fit it into my already demanding schedule. It would guarantee growth in myself, and that’s why I loved the idea of it. The moment I confirmed with myself that I would take on the Challenge was essentially the same moment that I finished. When I believed I could do it, nothing else would get in the way.
So now that I had a blast of inspiration, I had to figure out what I was supposed to be creating out of destruction. Before I move forward and explain my process through the challenge, I think it’s important to tell you a little bit about my personal and creative self. I am a high school junior studying jazz guitar at the New Orleans Center of Creative Arts. I like jazz, but it’s not necessarily what I love to listen to and play in my leisure time. The reason I enjoy studying it is because it makes me a well-rounded musician and pushes me out of my musical comfort zone. This is something I feel every artist should experience to widen their perspective of their own artistic discipline.
As much as I try to grow as a musician, I try not to lose sight of the importance of growing as young intellectual and a healthy lifelong learner. For example, the past few months before the Challenge, I’d been making lists to complete things every week that would make me grow as an individual. They usually consist of lifelong learning skills that I truly want to be better at, but require practice because I’ve never had a natural ability for them. Three things that reoccur consistently on the weekly to-do list are “read for an hour every day”, “summarize briefly about what I’ve read daily ”, and “meditate for at least 10 minutes daily”. These are everyday goals of mine, because I believe that becoming better at reading, writing, and focusing are qualities that help a person critically think in all aspects of their life.
After researching the idea of creative destruction, I understood what the prompt was asking of me, but I was still missing a submission idea. I became frustrated because I was trying to keep up with schoolwork, jazz guitar practice, my daily lifelong learning skills practices, and now I have taken on another project of the Beautiful Minds contest. I was still confident I could complete it, but all of my work began to snowball and left me feeling overwhelmed. I then came across Logan Davis’s writing, “We Destroy to Understand” on the Beautiful Minds Challenge Monthly Archive page. His writing discusses the cycle of Creative Destruction being divided into 3 sections: destruction, understanding, and creation. At the end of his piece, he writes, “Change nothing in the way you create, because it is more than likely you already think about things in a similar fashion as I have outlined…The prompt of The Beautiful Minds Challenge is not a challenge to change how you create: It is a task of how you think about creation.” This turned on a light in my head and completely changed my approach to my creative submission.
I was trying to change the way I create for the Challenge, but what I do to myself on a daily basis was Creative Destruction! Everyday, I am always trying to push myself into uncomfortable situations that force me to grow and adapt because that’s what makes life exciting for me. Jose Saramago put it the best when he said, “A human being is a being who is constantly ‘under construction,’ but also, in a parallel fashion, always in a state of constant destruction”. I love growth and development in myself, but the only way that can happen is if I throw out some of the old ways about me to make room for the new.
Even though I had this idea of self-development/destruction as the main point of my submission, I didn’t feel like a short essay talking about myself was enough to show my development. I wanted to create a music submission that reflected my self-development/destruction as well. So I talked to my music teacher on ways that I could grow as a jazz musician so that I could incorporate ideas of growth into my musical submission. He asked me “How often do you listen to jazz music?” I was embarrassed to admit that I don’t really listen to it on my own time unless it’s for class. He responded, “If you want to get better, start with listening to the greats like Charlie Parker everyday. Listen – over and over and over. Listen to their articulation, phrasing, and lift ideas from the records.”
I decided that if I was going to create a music submission that accurately reflected my self-development, I should take my teacher’s advice. From that moment on, I only listened to Charlie Parker records over and over and over again. Going to sleep. In the car. By myself at lunch. At dinner. I was basically listening to him any moment I was free and not working. My friends were calling me crazy and saying that they would never torture themselves like that. They considered it harm, while I saw it as healing. I believed that if I kept listening to the solos and melodies, I could bring ideas I was hearing into the music submission I would soon make.
Over the course of the month, I was Creative Destruction. I was growing in all possible aspects of my life. I was keeping up with school, reading, writing, meditating, listening to jazz, and practicing when I could. This was very difficult in the beginning, but like everything else, once I got into a rhythm of doing them daily, it became easier. What all of these activities have in common is that they required sickening self-discipline and lots of focus. It’s not necessarily about the individual activities I was doing, rather, it was about what they asked of me and if I was up to the Beautiful Minds Challenge I created for myself. It wasn’t the stress that made this month enjoyable. Rather, it was the feeling of accomplishment that I gained after overcoming the stress and knowing that I am ready for whatever comes my way as long as I believe I’m ready.
It was and still is not about a scholarship or the money. Changing myself and living in this month’s moment was much more rewarding than any cash or scholarship prize. It made me love living, and learning. At Thanksgiving, I was audibly thankful for the opportunities I have to even be able to grow as a musician and an intellectual. Thank you Marlboro College for helping me figure out my potential as a human this month.
Jazz Song Submission: “Flying through the Changes”
As stated above, this piece was heavily inspired by Charlie Parker because of how much I listened and connected to his music this month. I’ve titled it “Flying through the Changes” because I felt like I was changing and growing so rapidly throughout the month. “The Changes” is also alluding to the name of the chord progression in jazz tunes. “Flying” is another allusion to Charlie Parker’s nickname, “Byrd”. This tune may innately sound to you like “elevator music”, as a friend of mine so kindly put it, but it most certainly reflects me playing a style music that I was not comfortable writing at all. It pushed me far out of my comfort zone, and even more so when I only listened to Charlie Parker for weeks. I truly hope the effort I put towards this project is clear in my writing and song. Thank you.
New Light from a Dying Star by Perrin Segura | Christ Church Episcopal School | Greenville, SC
I learned a great deal after working with wire and wool and about working in a three-dimensional format with new materials. For the first time in my artistic journey, I was faced with the prospect of converting a two-dimensional image of shapes into a three-dimensional structure of continuous line. At first glance, the shapes that make up the skeleton of the destroyed star are formless blobs, but as I looked closer, it was revealed that distinctive shapes and patterns twined themselves around each other in an infinitely complex web of twisting, organic curves. The more I looked, the more was revealed. It was a challenge to me, but like any challenge, I believe it has greatly helped me to grow as an artist, and I have gained a better understanding of spatial relationships.
The Beauty of Destruction by Alexis Turgeon and Abbey Branco | Dartmouth High School | Dartmouth, MD
Beauty, despite what we initially think, has become increasingly harder to distinguish from the works of destruction. Destruction is not inherently bad, the human race despises endings of any kind, especially to things we hold dear. However, stars, despite their fanciful ability to hold wishes and dreams, are balls of decomposition and fumes of death. They die before they’re even born, and to humans, we see the beginning of an endless night.
Going into this project, we mulled over many preconceived notions of what beauty actually is. There lies the basics: things that glitter, bright lights and blinding sparks, objects with large eyes and soft features, the ability to help others with true altruism. While those do entice some areas of appreciation and fondness, behind our fear can hold true beauty. The fear of saying goodbye, the fear of things that die or lie in decadence, watching things leave and never come back.
In flames, we’ll never reach out and retrieve the objects we once cherished; in ashes we only get memories. Fire holds conventional beauty, in the way it licks out and illuminates the shadows, it brings out the nooks and crannies the Earth composes. Stars as well, show direction to a weary day now ending; they may seem to be life to an ending afternoon. The coating of our star (no matter how meticulous metaphors may be) represented the objects people go through that prick and rip away our outer disposition. Our wire star was never an easy thing to handle; there is no comfortability in holding something that soon will die.
In David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Alexis and I read along with the class as the main character, Jason Taylor debates the definition of beauty with the seemingly illustrious, Madame Commelyneck. They volley back answers in impressive feats, nonetheless, as they concluded their discussion, they came up with nothing. Beauty is nothing, it is everything and anything a person can think of. This added to our ideas of watching our creation die and never come back, because there was beauty in watching smoke rise from our star.
Whether or not the pretentiousness of our metaphysical journey through the depths of a Beauty Jungle is the answer to what we learned, we did manage to get success. In burning this “art-baby” we made, there was a sweet moment of consternation in watching that hard work go up in flames. From going door to door in asking for my neighbor’s recyclables to break, to rummaging in my Grandfather’s scrap pile for his spare wire, to copious strips of skin being peeled away by bubbling hot glue, there was a slice of charm in that one moment.
The conclusion we made at the end of these three months would be that, our beauty, my beauty, Alexis’s beauty, your beauty, is subjective. There wasn’t a phoenix-like resurrection of our star coming back to go through the ringer once again and endure the smoke and ash for a second or thousandth time. It was gone and never coming back, our time and memories were all we had left and whether or not that’s enough, it can serve to be a gorgeous recollection. Think back to a time where the world was crumbling and the only thing you had left was a past thought, a scent that brings on tranquility, a song that lulls out your jagged anxiety.
Memories and death can glue together the fragments of our life, even in the most unconditional ways. Maybe the star is just another droned out “English-class-examination-of-overly-prodded-metaphors”, or maybe, just maybe, it’s enough to show that beauty and destruction can go hand in hand instead of one after another.
Blood Sells by Yoni Bork | Agoura Falls High School | Encino, CA
The human body is the most amazing piece of machinery on this earth. It has the ability to withstand great pressure, adapt to the relentlessness of nature, and can even rebuild itself (often stronger than before). All of these physically amazing aspects of the body are coupled with the equally astounding ability to cope with the emotional distress that human brains encounter on a daily basis. My submission is centered around the relationship between body and mind and how they work together to form out of destruction something inherently beautiful: A human being.
“BLOOD CELLS RACE AS I FACE MYSELF. BLOOD CELLS RACE TO REPLACE MYSELF.” The first line refers to how my heart pumps blood swiftly through my body whenever I am facing something frightening or enraging. In the specific case of this poem, that “something” is the anguish I have been feeling lately that accompanies my journey to find myself. I have been incredibly frustrated lately as I have been unsuccessfully trying to come to terms with who I am.
That frustration led me to do something that my introverted self hardly ever does. I lashed out. I let my emotions take control and eventually found my fists bleeding and my heart racing. Although that moment was unpleasant, I have discovered something beautiful about myself. The same blood cells that my heart forces through my veins are the very same blood cells that will eventually clot and heal the wounds on my knuckles. This realization had my mind bursting with ideas. I came up with my poem rather quickly in that moment, but I wanted the presentation to match the words. I didn’t want my words to be a poem—I wanted them to be a process. I created a freehanded stencil out of some sketch paper and purchased some red and brown paint to mix. I couldn’t find a store that sold a 12”x44” canvas, so I ended up having to build one myself. I then stuck my stencil to the canvas, dipped my fist in my faux blood, and began to hit my canvas. While the preparation took hours, the actual punching took mere minutes. Even so, I actually ended up hitting hard enough to bloody my knuckles again (something I tried not to do). The whole process was quite spiritual to me. Even now as I am writing this, I am looking down at the almost completely healed scab on my right middle knuckle—astonished at my body’s ability to heal itself. What I cannot see, however, is how my mind has been healing. This project let me turn all of my bottled up frustration into something beautiful (the painted words on my canvas) which has made me feel accomplished and eased. More importantly though, the combination of both my calmed emotions and clottable blood have come together to form an entirely new beautiful entity. That entity is Yoni.
The Exen Drunkercyst by Peter Blickensderfer | Sir Francis Drake High School | Fairfax, CA
The Prompt “Create something out of destruction. Share what you learn.” made me think pretty hard about what there is to create and learn from destruction and the meaning of the word. I am sharing this song that I created using Propellerhead’s program Reason. I think it represents something beautiful from destruction because I started out with a jumbled mess of sounds and blank synthesizer patches. Some of the sounds used in this were pre-set in Reason or sampled from Freesound.org but most I created. With all the different ways to manipulate sounds it’s easy to create a horrible noise that feels like its destroying your eardrums. I wanted this song to sound like a throwback hip hop song but with a little bit of me thrown in. The idea for the song came from sitting in the park with one of my friends just talking about music and things that would sound cool. This was one of my favorite songs to make and I learned a lot about not letting one sounds over power another. I found it especially hard to make a bass synthesizer that didn’t down out another synthesizer and still be able to be heard.
War Stories by Dilruba Sakhizada | The White Mountain School | Bethlehem, NH
The process of participating in the Beautiful Minds Challenge was very powerful. Revisiting the play that I helped create was a reminder of the life changing experience I had. I have been living in America for three years now. I am so used to living a peaceful life. However, the process of writing this essay for the Beautiful Minds Challenge reminded me of the children of war who have suffered in Afghanistan and have had similar experiences to me. It was hard to think back and see how much of a similar experience I share with many children of war. Yet, participating in the Beautiful Minds Challenge made me realize that I created something out of destruction. I gave back to children who spent their lives in pain and suffering. Most importantly, this process made me remember what I had created and how it made me feel powerful and strong to give back to children of war in my Country.
The process of choosing the best method to share my experiences was challenging and required several revisions. The idea of writing a paper was not my first idea. Initially, I wanted to create a video in which I would recreate the play and include my own experience and thoughts looking back today. However, in thinking more about my method for sharing my experience, I realized that an essay would better enable me to convey the experience of creating the play and to include my own reflections and insight that I have now. I also felt that recreating the play would not be as effective because I would not be able to capture the emotions and connections that we felt towards the children we wrote about.
This process of revisiting the play was hard, but at the same time it was very meaningful. Throughout the writing of this essay, I realized how great an opportunity it is for me to be in a peaceful country as opposed to the place where I grew up. Right now, I am safe. I am not afraid to go out and enjoy nature by myself or with my friends. I can walk out the door without feeling any fear that someone might harm me. I am also free to get an education without being in danger. At the time that I was participating in creating the play, I did not know that I was doing a good thing. I did not realize that I was giving back to children of war and children who had suffered hardships like me. I did not understand that creating that play would become such a powerful experience for me. It was not until I started brainstorming for the Beautiful Minds Challenge that I realized I had created something beautiful. I had created something meaningful out of the destruction in my Country and the destruction of the lives of those children of war.
Ashes of Remembrance by Josephine Yu, Bronte Wen, and Yannie Mei | Montgomery Blair High School | Potomac, MD
Much as the phoenix regrows out of its own ashes, our representation of the September 11th tragedy shows the ashes of the attack shading the memorials. On Tuesday September 11th, 2001, al-Qaeda launched two attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 2,996 people. Cleanup of the debris in New York was completed May 2002 and in the place of the towers, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was built to commemorate the attack.
In our video, we “recreated” the plane crashes and the destruction of the towers. The towers are first built, and all seems well until the attacks begin. The towers are symbolically burned; although they are destroyed, something–the ash–remains. The ashes from the burning are then symbolically recycled to build the memorial, the ghost of the attack. From the ruins come memories, forever kept alive in two reflecting pool graves.
The reflecting pools face towards the sky–towards heaven–to connect the living with the dead. In the video, we show the aerial view of these memorials as they project to earth the invisible spirits of those lost and always remembered.
The grief and sorrow of the survivors and relatives coupled with the country united after the attack is a beautiful thing to remember. Thousands of lives were lost that day. Relatives, friends, neighbors, strangers. In the darkness of the tragedy, the country pulled together. Family left work to be with one another and friends leaned on each other for support as they cried. People across country sent waves of support to New York, bringing the nation closer than ever before. America was hurt, but not broken. From the destruction and loss came a unified country, connected through two ghost towers and all the spirits within them.
All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.
First Place – Solar Recycling Machine by Julian Jaffe | Voyagers’ Community School | Lincroft, NJ
My name is Julian Jaffe and I am a 14 year old boy who loves to build things. When I was first told about the Beautiful Minds Challenge I was very intrigued by the prompt. I thought about several ideas at first, but then one idea stuck in my mind. I explained the idea to my friends and teachers and all of them inspired me to make the idea into a reality.
Although I know a good bit about science and the way things work, I had to do a lot of research during my project. I learned a lot about how recycling facilities work, as well as where the world’s materials actually come from. Although my project was not able to give solid results it did spark several more ideas in my mind.
The concept of turning something useless into something useful for no money or energy is very interesting to experiment with. The reason I think this project is beautiful is simply because it represents human efficiency. The world has many issues and one of them is waste and pollution. Recycling is helping, somewhat, to make several different industries more efficient with materials, but there is still a long way to go in this arena. I think the future is in finding ways to recycle something without the trouble and energy that it takes now. Localizing efforts into smaller loops so that individuals take responsibility for their own waste and, thus, choose better products.
That is what this project represents: the simple ability to make something better for the benefit of others.
Second Place – Abandonment by Devon Kasper and Jordan Dermody | Easthampton High School | Easthampton, MA
The Beautiful Minds project has helped us to see and understand the ultimate destruction that the world possesses. We sought to see something in our own community that was different, that not every other town in the world holds. We realized our town was special, it was developed through industrial innovation; mills. Looking around our home, Easthampton, we saw how our world has taken a toll on the Hampton Company Mill. As we further investigated a part of our childhood that we never acknowledged the significance of, we discovered the history of our town that appears to be forgotten. Walking through the one mill left in Easthampton to rot, we witnessed the corrosion of time and the selfishness of our town to leave the building to crumble.
We saw broken windows, shattered glass, missing doors, defacement of the walls and reminisce of immature adolescents who left their despicable mark behind. We knew that this building had been destroyed, but not in the ways you might think. No one has taken a bulldozer to it yet, a tornado has not blown through, a fire has not burned the walls, and a blizzard hasn’t made it fall. What has caused the destruction of this building is abandonment. This building was left for time to take its toll, and that is what has happened.
We wanted to take this opportunity to remind the citizens of Easthampton about the one mill we forgot. Since we aren’t capable of completely renovating and reusing the entire building itself, we have chosen to make a memorial for it, using pieces that time pushed to the ground. We have built a bench, and used old bricks from the mill as armrests. We also, transferred a mural of the working Hampton Company Mill onto the seat of the bench. Our hope is that this initiative we have taken will open the eyes of the Easthampton Community and bring us closer to revitalizing this lifeless building.
By building this memorial we have learned that the mills were the center piece of Easthampton. We noticed that every other mill has been reinvented and wanted to look past the fence that was separating the Hampton Company from the community it belongs in. Though the building that was once called the Hampton Company, is unsightly, destroyed and broken, we were able to take pieces of it and make something beautiful, useful and remind the community about the foundation of Easthampton. We hope that people will not only see the aesthetics of our bench, but the time, work and thought that was put into it. The beauty that it holds is in how it was made and how it will be used. We learned that history lies in the most abandoned places. We also learned how to do something we weren’t familiar with, like building a bench, to try and give to back to our community.
Third Place – From the Ashes… by Zach Aubin | Sparhawk High School | Ipswich, MA
When presented with this year’s Beautiful Minds Challenge Prompt, “Create something out of destruction. Share what you learn.” my thoughts immediately went to the loss of my grandfather when I was in second grade. The year was a difficult one for me; I had a very close relationship with my grandfather, who I called Gaga. He was my perfect grandfather, role model, guardian, leader, and champion. He was someone who made me feel safe, loved and was an example of the type man I wanted to become.
I can think of no greater destruction than death, it is the final dissemblance of life. My grandfather sadly died from Pancreatic cancer, a process that destructive and devastating. I watched this disease slowly destroy the landscape that was his life.
I was then faced with the quandary of how to take this experience of the loss of my grandfather and create something new, profound and beautiful from it. My grandfather had been cremated after his death, as he wished, and I had some of his ashes. I began practicing glassblowing as a hobby two years ago. Glassblowing is a hobby I enjoy, additionally I find it very soothing and meditative and it also seems to harmonize one with the universe. Perhaps it is the working with fire and intense heat from which you can create these beautiful objects that remind me of what the first moments of the universe must have been like, from being molten and formless, to becoming form and beauty.
One night while thinking about this prompt, I realized that it could be possible to utilize my glassblowing skills in creating something beautiful out of this destruction that impacted my life so intensely. Upon further thought and contemplation while working in the glass studio on paperweights and adding color to them. I thought that perhaps I could use my grandfather’s ashes as I do color in the creation of paperweights.
As these ideas began to formulate, I began to research online. I then began to ask at the glass studio for advise on this concept from the various glass teachers, after which I worked on a concept without the use of ash. Once I had developed a working idea, I set up time to return to the studio for another daylong session, to begin the work with my grandfather’s ashes.
In the pieces I created with my grandfather’s ashes I used amber, the actual ancient resin, in one and blue glass in the other. I chose amber to illustrate and connect my grandfather to all history from the earliest of times and the blue to represent his love of the ocean and boating.
I created four paperweights in this process. I even used what was considered discarded parts of the process that would have been destroyed and thrown into recycling.
Through this Beautiful Minds Prompt there was crystallization in my mind of this well loved hobby of glassblowing and how to honor my beloved grandfather.
Like the crucible that the glass is heated to such high temperatures in and melted, loss of my grandfather was a crucible of my very being. The loss of one who we love so greatly, who has such impact on one’s life is a severe test of the very fiber of our existence no matter what our age. As a physical crucible in the glassblowers studio is a place where different elements interact to produce molten glass that allows the glassblower to create new and beautiful works, loss too can be the crucible of the soul, testing who we are, allowing us to create life the glassblower with glass, who we are to become through this trial.
The Beautiful Minds Challenge Prompt inspired a path upon which I could remember and honor a man who impacted my life so greatly. The act of creation also became an act of ritual and remembrance, for this reason these paperweights carry a beauty so elemental that they are like the fire from which they were forged.
Fourth Place – Finding Hope in Destruction by Henry Robinson | Home School | North Attleboro, MA
In response to the prompt “create something from destruction, share what you learn,” I created a ‘zine of found poetry. The introduction in the ‘zine explains my “something beautiful,” my “creation from destruction.” My project is beautiful because it seeks to find hope in what might seem hopeless. At times, the world seems so irreparable. However hope can be found, and often in unlikely places and in unlikely ways, such as in destruction. The death of an animal spawns new life. It supports fungus, which then decomposes the corpse and eventually rots away itself. From the rotten remains of fungus and animal alike, a fertile soil is created, from which plants can grow and thrive. From these plants, many animals can find sustenance and thrive themselves, and then someday die and continue the cycle. Hope is what motivates us from our beds in the morning. It is what propels us through life until our deaths, striving to make a difference and attempting to leave behind something positive. Hope births beauty, because hope helps us make change and find beauty even in destruction. My ‘zine is my quest to create a fertile soil from which hope may sprout.
Fifth Place – Junkful by Yeonsoo Koo | Cinco Ranch High School | Katy, TX
This piece was created using a method called Encaustics. I started out with a flat piece of wooden board. First, I added random items, such as pencils, papers, wrapping papers, strings, and the remnants of sharpened pencils (found inside pencil sharpeners). Then, I put Gesso and Mod Podge all over the items. I mixed them well and let everything dry for a day.
After the surface was dry, I went over it with hot wax. Using a large flat brush, I applied wax as if I am applying wall paint, trying to make it smooth. Then, I took a dryer specially designed for using on artwork (it is hotter than usual hair dryers), and removed excess wax to make the surface even thinner and smoother.
I took shellac, usually used to polish wood surfaces, and covered the surface. I took a blowtorch next, and burned the shellac to create the effect that I wanted. The shellac would catch on fire and burn away, and I blew on some of the flames to control how much I wanted to burn the shellac (This was my favorite part! It is stress relieving to watch the shellac melt in). Lastly, I let the shellac dry for a few days so it is not sticky anymore. When I first saw the prompt, I thought about what can be destructive. The first thing that came to my mind was fire. Only a few things are fire-proof; the flame can gulp down houses, towns and even forests in minutes. However, this destructive force, when controlled, is the source of energy and beauty. I used fire to transform and finalize my creation. Before undergoing the step of blow-torching the shellac, everyone, including myself, thought my art work was junk. It looked like trash that was let alone for a few weeks; I could almost smell it decomposing. However, the slight touch of fire changed everything. At the beautiful copper and blue shades that the flame engraved, all of my peers and even my art teacher were amazed. It seems scary to put anything on fire, for it might be completely destroyed, but the risk is worth the transformation. So if something looks bad, just burn it! (But first, cover it with shellac!)
Another thought that created this piece was using trash and useless objects to create the texture. These items have already undergone destruction; now they can be broken, burned and transformed into art work. The objects were things that would have been thrown away—they were about to become real trash. But now, they became part of a junk that I choose to call art. I learned that everything has a use, however worthless it might seem. It is up to the artist to kill or save.
Sixth Place – Breaking Boundaries by Chenjie Zhao | Christ’s Church Episcopal School | Greer, SC
Autumn came quickly. The soft footsteps of autumn escaped me: the hurried sunset, the radiant, burnt orange persimmon trees. But when the winged newcomers of our house with emerald green tunics and clever eyes started to prepare their winter clothes, I finally noticed.
My two little brothers shrieked with surprise when a carpet of feathers adorned the wooden floor around the two cuddly parakeets. These carefree little creatures began to preen their new feathers. The unexpected leads me to see the beauty of the ordinary. Just as the leaves fall from the trees, the two little birds part with their summer clothes.
I imagine a cage with three wire birds. The cage gives structure and safety to the little birds’ two-dimensional existence. The three birds have lived a flat life, and grown in the dimensions available to them. Two of the birds remain at the bottom of the cage while the third bird, bold and reckless, breaks out of the lines developing colorful new feathers with every moment which will enable it to explore vast new space.
I aim to use my work of art to encourage people, including myself, to trust life, and open up to its infinite rungs and dimensions in the cycles of renewal. The thin linearity of wires can be transcended by, and taken up into the fullness of a larger reality. After all, we are made of wires too – just smaller (nano) wires, and bigger hopes.
My father died on May 2nd, 2013. He had been battling prostate cancer for several years. His struggle had intensified pretty significantly in December of 2012. My brother and I knew then that it was likely his last Christmas with us. My former classmate and fellow alumna, Rebecca passed away almost seven years ago now. She was only 34. She had been vibrant, healthy, gentle & kind. I hadn’t been in touch with her for a long while and was not able to see her or connect with her directly when I found out she was dying of colon cancer. She and her husband had just completed construction on their beautiful new home. They had spent one year in it together while it was finished.
The amount of sadness I have experienced around these losses and certainly others is large. Of course, the loss of my father has been a huge turning point in my life for me. I have joined “the dead parents club” as one of my colleagues put it. It is certainly not a club one seeks membership in, but you inevitably will join at some point. Along his journey, I ended up making a LOT of trips back to CT to be with him and my brother. I fled CT years ago and typically dread going back. The culture is simply not home for me and hasn’t been for quite some time. I don’t have a place there. I don’t fit and don’t have a desire to do so. Vermont is truly my home.
Since my first visit the Marlboro College back on November 11th, 1990, I knew that Vermont, particularly this corner of Southeastern Vermont, was destined to be home. Flash forward to 1998 when I re-met my future wife, someone whom I knew at Marlboro when we were both students. She was in Vermont, I was in Boston. Falling in love was the best excuse to get back to the place where I lost my heart the first time. Since then, my wife and I have been establishing home here, living in houses or apartments where we could gather our friends together, cook tasty meals, settle in for quiet times after rambunctious days, creating a space which simply exuded that sense of home for all who entered.
That sense of home has been the foundation of our relationship. As long as we had that strong, grounding place together, we felt we could meet anything no matter how challenging. It was critical to be able to come home after the long weekends in CT with my father. Even before then, that home place with our deep, thick community we have here held us when my wife’s mother suddenly passed away 13 years prior. It has been in these most tragic, sad times that home, both the place and the feeling have mattered most and have been the most present.
As creators and stewards of home, we have longed to be actual home owners. We have researched, deeply thought about, planned out designs, visited and house sat at so many beautiful and sometimes not so beautiful homes. We have established a very clear sense of what the physical space of home should be for us. However, it wasn’t until my father passed away and left us half of the proceeds from the sale of his home that we could even consider becoming home owners. While excited about having the means to possess a space to truly create our own home, the sadness of the loss of my father was and still is present.
When the perfect home came into our search, we didn’t realize that it was going to be Rebecca’s former home she built with her husband, also a Marlboro alumnus. But when we visited the home which we had only saw as a listing online, we immediately knew the story of this home. The love and care that was put into its construction and into the deconstruction of the previous home was instantly palpable. They took elements of the old farm house and integrated them into this new, environmentally more sustainable, home. There was such attention to detail, the color choices, the light switch plates, the gardens which had been planted by the owner before them. The spaces were designed to have groups of people over. There was an instant warmth, and instant welcome. It was already our home. Now that it is our home, I live with this ever present sense of joy in finding this beautiful space to continue co-creating home with my wife and loved ones. I also hold very close the spirits of my father and Rebecca, wishing they could be here to see us. I also know they are most definitely with us.
Rocks rolled and clicked along the asphalt road across from my rental cabin in what appeared to be a cosmic game of bocce ball. My wife and I had barely set up house and it was time for Sunday brunch at Marlboro College with the only-slightly newer first-year students. In four days, classes were to start, and this was Orientation Weekend. My own orientation as a new faculty member had concluded two days earlier, and I was keen to get involved and meet my students. The Vermonters I’d been meeting suggested putting aside a few milk jugs of water and cans of beans in case winds from Hurricane Irene caused power outages.
I walked up the road in that unrelenting rain to the intersection of Town Hill Road, where I could hear heavy equipment rumbling above and beyond me. A man in a backhoe was redirecting a blown-out ditch, trying to stop that dirt road from completely washing down to the bedrock. Another minute of walking brought me to the Meetinghouse, where cars with New York and Connecticut plates were parking, and I learned that they were there to find shelter—Route 9, the main east-west road over the Green Mountains in Southern Vermont, had suffered landslides and was impassible in both directions. It was at that point that I decided I could safely skip the new student and faculty brunch.
Two days later, I rode my mountain bike to campus to teach a haikai poetry communal writing exercise to new students who were seeing the first day of classes pushed back until the roads were reopened. Poetry. In the face of all the destruction, I wanted poetry, and medieval Japanese poetry at that. Jeffrey Yang, poet and editor at New Directions, argued for poetry in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and in the face of a year that saw a record $200 billion in damage from weather/climate disasters in the US. “Poetry brings us to a certain kind of awareness . . . a lot of it is about how we heal . . . from these disasters.” Yang cited German expressionist poet Gottfried Benn:
The drunken torrents are broken,
grown alien, to you, to me,
our only possession the silence
of a bone washed clean by the sea.
The floods, the flames, the questions —
till the ashes tell you one day:
“Life is the building of bridges
over rivers that seep away”
(Trans. M. Hamburger, from “Epilogue”)
Safe back in the little cabin, my wife and I wrote poems, painted pictures, and secretly rather enjoyed the fact that we weren’t supposed to drive anywhere. We ate our ice cream before it melted. We looked at the black streaks on the exposed posts and beams of the 200-year old shed, now cabin, and I thought too of other disasters. Poets have created from destruction as long as there have been words.
My own work on early American literature made me recall Anne Bradstreet, the Puritan writer who wrote “Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666” and I felt a new kinship in the face of all the destruction we witnessed. That poem begins with the baleful lines:
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
Although Bradstreet ultimately finds redemption, she takes her time getting there and surveys the aftermath carefully.
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Poetry comes from the ashes and the torrents. Although our bridges and houses, our stores and pelf will pass away, the creative impulse will remain. Here are a few stanzas we created on August 31, 2011, sitting on the grass at our officially “cut-off” campus.
Wandering for hours
Alone in the dark
One flickery flashlight. Ivy
A heron on the roof:
Why so much worry
Over a little mud? Kyhl
A kinship with the mountain—
We revel in the seclusion. Marty
Once gone and now returned
Everything is right. Raina
– Kyhl Lyndgaard
Marlboro College Professor — Environmental Studies, Literature, Writing
Four months after my graduation from Marlboro College, life unexpectedly led me to Cleveland, Ohio, for a three-week stint. I lived, for part of that time, with a fellow Marlboro graduate who works as an abstract painter in addition to managing a portrait gallery in Cleveland’s arts district, Tremont. I made my own money washing dishes at a restaurant on Detroit Avenue, a major West Side thoroughfare.
You might ask yourself: Really? Cleveland? There’s an art scene in Cleveland? Why would anybody graduate college and then move to Cleveland? Why would more than one person make this terrible mistake?
Before I actually lived in Cleveland, I had wondered similar things. The city of 390,000 residents (dramatically down from its mid-twentieth-century peak of 900,000), is currently in the midst of what has been described by different sources as an “urban renaissance” harnessing its allure of “Rust Belt Chic” to attract “millennials and recent college graduates” in search of a “quirky” or maybe “local” vibe.
The fuel for this process, the attraction of “Rust Belt Chic” is the stuff of great debate, but at its core is a familiar story. Neighborhoods of color, of workers, of immigrants, suddenly share real estate with new faces. These faces are usually white, young, and accompanied by a decent amount of disposable income. Over time, the rents rise, and the old residents are forced out. This process is often celebrated on promotional websites, in magazines, and on television as “revival” or “renaissance,” but it obscures the disruption of people, history, and tradition that characterizes so many gentrifying neighborhoods. It obscures a narrative of destruction.
Part of this narrative is also creativity, of conjuring a new society from the ruins of the old. In Cleveland’s steel mills, dilapidated Victorian houses, old laundries, and empty shops, new residents see a blank slate with a gritty, industrial appeal. But at what cost does the empty slate come? Yes, there is certainly cause for celebration in the opening of new businesses and the growth of cities’ tax bases. But look closer and you will see the continuation of other problems: of incredible segregation, of extreme poverty and human suffering, of a historically racist police force. “Renaissance” is only a partial story of the changes under way in American cities in the twenty-first century.
Sometimes, obtaining inspiration is tough, and it can often work against us and make us uninspired. We may feel what the point of even trying is. Sometime if you JUST try, you will find inspiration will begin to flow. To attempt, to make, or to do is the first step towards the right direction. It is always best to try and attempt than to never try or to never attempt at all. To attempt, even the slightest is the first great feat one can accomplish. You will find all throughout life, that to try and put effort into whatever you are doing will be much more rewarding; not only to others, but to you, rather than sitting and being idle.
The first step could be finding ideas, like brainstorming. Finding an idea in itself can be a whole other challenge. Find something that motivates you or you are passionate about. It is much easier to do something that you actually like or are interested in. Write down a few ideas of what you are most interested in. Try to narrow down your list until you have thought of one solid good idea that you are confident about. Remember, always try, you have nothing to loose.
Just remember, that everyone struggles with finding inspiration on a project or a task. All of these require work and effort. The hardest work or the task with the most effort is always the most rewarding. If we are able to really work for what we want to achieve, we can over come and complete anything. Work and good effort takes motivation, concentration, and determination. With those three points, one can complete any task.
If we saved all of the disgusting food scraps we scraped off our plates in our whole lifetimes, and placed them in a slimy, gooey line, they would reach all the way to the moon and back 27 times. That’s a rough guess anyway, but what a better use of time and space it would be to compost those food scraps instead.
Composting is a way to take the stuff that nobody wants to eat, the soggy French fries, moldy bread, wilted lettuce, wormy apples, and squishy tomatoes, and turn them into something really useful: rich, bountiful soil. It’s like getting something from nothing, like creating something beautiful from putrid decay, like turning destruction on it’s head, like winning the lottery. Well, maybe not like winning the lottery, but it’s still pretty amazing.
The key to composting is aerobic bacteria, tiny, oxygen-loving microorganisms that busily break down organic waste like the aforementioned wilted lettuce, and use some of the nutrients to thrive and multiply. To these bacteria, your disgusting table scraps are like an all-you-can-eat buffet of gastronomic delights. As the bacteria work their magic, the compost can heat up to 140 degrees, or hot enough to cause third degree burns. They don’t seem to mind, however, and the hotter it gets, the quicker the disgusting, smelly food scraps are destroyed and turned into lush, fertile soil.
Where do these amazing bacteria come from? They are just always there, waiting to be helpful. Actually, they’re just waiting to thrive and multiply, but if they are helpful to us in the process they deserve the credit. But beware gentle composters, there are also anaerobic bacteria always there, and they aren’t as apparently helpful. If your compost isn’t turned and mixed regularly, supplying the air that aerobic bacteria need to survive, it will instead be overrun by anaerobic bacteria that turn smelly food scraps into even smellier, partially decomposed food scraps.
So here’s how composting is NOT like winning the lottery: you are no more or less likely to win millions of dollars, but there IS a little work involved. But if you spend a little time turning your compost pile, and make sure that the balance of carbon and nitrogen-rich waste is maintained to keep your aerobic bacteria happily humming along, you will be amply repaid in rich soil.
Writer and Editor, author of Potash Phil (http://cosmo.marlboro.edu/potashphil/)
The cycle of creation and destruction is a bit like a chicken and an egg; it’s hard to determine which comes first. In the creation story in Genesis, God creates the world out of a void, an earth without form. It’s not as if there was nothing when God set to work but rather a disorganized mess. By separating out the elements, the waters from the land, the heaven from the earth, God created something where biodiversity might flourish. With the land separated from the water, the grasses and herbs and fruit trees could multiply. With the waters unclogged by land, whales and other swimming creatures were able to multiply. And with the firmament separated from the soil, fowl and other flying things were able to stretch out in the open firmament of heaven. By separating out the elements, a pastoral and God-loving civilization was able to emerge.
But even that Old Testament creation moved inexorably towards destruction. When God became seriously disappointed with the degree of piety in his well-ordered universe, he made the elements mash-up again. The waters rose, the dry land disappeared, and the world as the shepherds and goatherds knew it was destroyed. According to this biblical logic, creation begat destruction which begat creation.
But what if the void in the beginning began it all? Some scholars read Genesis as a description of the limits of the human imagination. When we can’t make sense of things, we call it chaos, bedlam, destruction, the void. By creating order, God made the world legible. With the water separated from the land, we feel a lot more in control. But that feeling that we can find our way in the world begins with the terror that the whole thing is madness. That may be the primal experience of life for the newborn. From that intense fear we are willing to follow the dictates of our parents, to absorb their rules, to imitate their inclinations. Maybe the terror of chaos propels us towards order.
Besides the chicken and egg problem, there is also the confusion in determining what constitutes creation and what constitutes destruction. Since climate change has entered our vocabulary, many of the creations of the past sixty years are looking more destructive. For instance, the strip mall that your grandparents called convenient is now seen as environmental degradation. That shift in awareness happened because environmentalists read order where developers saw messiness. We now know that bogs and marshes, the swampy borders between water and land, are not messes but complex filtration systems that separate out pollutants and absorb floodwaters. When we thought wetlands were earth without form, we imposed order by covering them up with parking spaces and aisles of laundry detergents. Now we impose order by keeping developers away. What God creates let no man turn asunder!
Creation and destruction are both intimately entwined and evolving. Once we understand the order, as was the case with wetlands, then we stop trying to organize it. If we just see it as messy, then we bring in the bulldozers to firm up the soil. What this suggests is that the cycle of creation and destruction has a lot to do with our experience of the world’s intelligibility and unintelligibility. When the elements are in their rightful place, the world feels manageable. But in the presence of chaos, we feel really, really small.
The superstorms of recent years, the tornadoes and hurricanes that mash up parking lots and strip malls, grinding asphalt against the deep waters of the sea, create unintelligible landscapes. In this part of Vermont, during Tropical Storm Irene, hillsides that dated back to biblical times were washed out to sea. The day before the storm, these close-packed hills with winding streams and occasional strip malls were completely intelligible. Once the roads washed out and the ancient oaks and propane tanks became like creatures that moved in the waters, we lost our bearings. Three years later, we’re still trying to make sense of it all.
The destruction of Irene begat new ideas about hillsides and roads that seemed permanently tethered to their streams. It made me think about asphalt differently and buying river-front property. It certainly gave me first-hand experience of the terrible wonder that fills a person when the landscape exceeds the intelligible forms in the head.
I’d like to tell you that I was able to increase my awareness so that great destructions are always within my ken, but that would be a bald-faced lie. What I think I can say is that destruction propels us toward creation. The trick is to create something that recognizes the limits of human understanding, or at least can handle the next storm’s force.
By: Meg Mott
Marlboro College Professor – Environmental Studies, Gender Studies, Politics
We have all heard the phrase “good artists create, but great artists steal” at one point or another. In fact, we have heard it with probably just about every profession related to creation. Artist, musicians, writers, film directors, and philosophers: we say that the greatest of them steal what they create. But how? To simply steal would (and should) be considered plagiarism, no? It is because we have bumper-stickered this saying, and what it entails, for the sake of brevity.
When film a director pays homage to another film by use of a quote or camera trick, they are not simply stealing this piece, an entire process has happened prior to the choice to use this specific material. This process is the progression of understanding so that what is stolen may not only be used appropriately, but that its meaning is kept intact and germane. As in all pursuits in life, there are levels upon levels of processes and this is no different for understanding.
So what is this process that underlies our ability to understand? Destruction. Everything we ever come in contact with and everything we ever think about, we tear apart, strip it down and break it up so that only its most important parts remain. We watch films and will only remember a fraction of a full presentation, we remember specific melodies within specific movements in symphonies, and we focus on only certain objects in paintings. Why? Because those are what matter to you. Those parts sum up what the full piece means to you. What you remember is what struck you. We destroy a work of someone else, what is left is what we find impactful , important, and useful.
Let me talk about this idea of “destroying to understand” a different context. Academic journals acts as a strip shop of formalized and published thoughts. Every page you see is the product of this multi-level process of destruction, understanding, and subsequent creation for the simple goal of having this new product destroyed by both the new and old voices in a field of study. Scholars, academics, professors, they all sit and read these articles, making diagrams of causation and support. The mark down their questions, they compare their own knowledge, the try to find the claim of the author, trying to decipher its importance, validity, and over all integrity. After they do this, they may read the article a second time, they may just critique or question the author, they may never give it direct heed again. No matter what their following action is though, they are all left with some imprint from the text they read, they carry with them little, tiny, beautiful pieces that they will at one point bring into their own arguments. They use these pieces to construct a new article, and then they submit this article to an academic journal, and the cycle continues.
This process, this cycle is essential to how we learn, create, and advance. But what do you do with this? Well, do exactly what you were doing before. Change nothing in the way you create, because it is more than likely you already think about things in a similar fashion as I have outlined. Just recognize that this pattern (destruction, understanding, creation) is present, understand that it is natural, and understand that it is beautiful. We are creatures of creation, we are creatures of destruction, we are creatures capable of marvelous things. The prompt of The Beautiful Minds Challenge is not a challenge to change how you create: It is a task of how you think about creation.
Twenty-three high school students from across the country (and the world!) joined us in still-snowy Marlboro, Vermont April 2-5 for the second-annual Beautiful Minds Challenge Symposium. Highlights of the symposium, according to attendees, were the improv comedy workshop, dinner at faculty member William Edelglass’ house, attending college classes, seeing each others’ presentations and meeting an amazing group of other students! We’ll let quotes and pictures speak for themselves.
Round table on journeys and the Road Less Traveled
“I really enjoyed meeting other students from around the country and world. Sharing our experiences was seriously inspirational!”
“I was hesitant about participating at first (worried about getting judged…) As the days went on, I felt more comfortable and inspired to share myself with the group.”
“Diversity and commonality alike were abundant and it made for an enriching, fulfilling experience.”
“This was one of the most amazing experiences in my life.”
“Marlboro is completely different than what I expected, and I may not have talked to some of these people if I just saw them on the street, but they are all really cool and I learned different things from everyone.”
“I really was surprised at how close I was able to get with the other participants in only four days! This was truly a beautiful experience!”
“I learned how so many people can take such different meanings from a prompt and still make it so lovely and beautiful in a very different way from me.”
“There really are like-minded people in the world that want the things I do from a school.”
“I had some knowledge and expectations, but nothing like coming and experiencing it! I know now I would fit in here (at Marlboro College). This is a really cool program.”
” This experience has given me so much hope and excitement for the future.”
BMC Symposium attendees at Gallery Walk in Brattleboro
“To acquire knowledge, one must study; to acquire wisdom, one bust observe.” -Marilyn Vos Sevant
The road of observation has always been my road less travelled. It has always been the road I have taken, it has always been the road I have enjoyed the most. Through my observation of people, life and situations, I have learned many things about myself and others.
Concerning myself, I have learned that I enjoy watching people. I enjoy listening to the conversations they have with each other. I enjoy watching how people react to someone’s arrival or departure. I enjoy memorizing people’s quirks and habits. Observation has taught me that I enjoy all of those things, but more importantly, it has taught me how to observe myself. Through observing others, I have gained the skills required to observe myself and my own behavior, which allows me to better control my emotions and reactions. I observe myself in conversation; It’s as if there are two of me present at all times–one speaking and the other taking note of how the first replies to certain statements or questions so that I am able to improve my responses and make them more thoughtful. I also enjoy paying attention to the way that certain situations make me feel. If I begin to feel sad, I sit back and look at what is happening. I wonder why and I determine why so that, if I would truly like to, I can avoid these situations in the future or teach myself how to protect and prepare myself for them when the time comes for me to endure them again. I take note of facial expressions that I make at certain times or feelings that I get when I’m near certain people, thoughts that enter my head at certain times of day. Observation has, overall, taught me more about myself and my body and my reactions than, I believe, anything else ever could.
Concerning others, I have learned more about them through observation than I ever could through talking to them. As stated in my video, observation is beautiful because through observation you cannot be lied to. Entering someone’s bedroom alone can teach you a multitude of things about them. Their favorite color, their favorite band, their favorite texture, their deepest secrets, the things that they collect, the things that they don’t care for, the things that mean the most to them. If someone keeps movie stubs, they probably enjoy movies. If someone has a bookshelf full of books, they probably enjoy reading. Books on a shelf alone can tell you a lot about a person. What are their wildest dreams? What is that persons dream world? What does that person want to be when they grow up? I have learned all that there is to know regarding my friend’s interests solely by entering their bedrooms or reading their blogs. However, there is more to my observation of others than just their belongings. I also learn from the way they speak to me. I notice quirks. Grace Winburne repeats what I say to her when she gets excited. Marielle pronounces Mizzou as MIZzou and Mary faith as MARY faith. Nick used to stutter when he was interested in a subject. Chloe speaks slower when she is frustrated than she does when she is in a good mood. Noticing these types of things about people has taught me how to interpret their feelings and has also made it easier for me to communicate with them. As an observer I am able to predict moods and proceed accordingly. Being an observer has taught me many things and I am grateful that I have been blessed with the skills of an observer.
A Path Less Traveled – JCOS Lake Powell Trip 2013 by Bailey Bermond | Jefferson County Open School | Wheat Ridge, CO
Back in the 70’s when the Open School was conceived, a tradition was born known as the Boundary Waters Trip, where students spend three weeks paddling and exploring the pristine waters of this canoe area wilderness in Minnesota and Canada.
We can notice a visible shift in climates around the world, and the BWCA is one of those places. The lakes were completely iced over, with a good four feet of snow above them in May when we have always gone. People were greatly affected in the area, and inevitably our trip was to be canceled. That is until we came together as a group and created something new. “Boundary Waters South” was off and rolling as we hit the road where no BW trip group has ever traveled before. We explored Utah—Lake Powell our destination—where we canoed about 60 miles.
Collectively as a group I think we all learned a lesson in letting go of expectations, and this yielded one of the most spontaneous, rewarding, and special journeys of our lives. This remained a theme during my four day solo experience when I had certain patterns in my thinking I was holding on to, which I describe in the film as fear. As I let go, instead of just surviving, I was finally living in awe of this incredible planet.
Throughout my journey, I have expanded my appreciation for the life-long learning JCOS teaches us and the important role nature plays as our classroom; for these are places that truly cultivate beautiful minds.
I am honored to share something so dear to my heart with you all at Marlboro College. Enjoy, and please watch in HD 🙂
The Never Ending Wave by Alexander Gold | Viewpoint School | Calabasas, CA
Most people think of the camera as an object that can catch individual moments of a trip or journey. However, I think of a series of images as a journey rather than individual pieces. Through the lens of my camera I’m showing a journey, whether it is hardship or success. In order to capture this moment I created a time lapse with shots from the break of dawn until the dark midnight sky. My grandpa, the man who taught me all about photography and the beauty one can show through art, taught me many things in life, but, there are two ideas that I worship most. He always told me that my life is unique, my path may be the same as someone else but the journey is always unique. Another reference he always told me about was the life of a wave. He said that like a human, the wave can fear its end because it never knows what happens once it crashes onto shore. He said that there is no end, because although that wave crashed it goes back into the sea and becomes another unique wave. After he passed I was inspired to do a shot like this that incorporated both of his lessons. I am fortunate enough to be given this opportunity to shoot the ocean because just like your path in life, each wave is unique. I like to think of the relationship of the waves in the ocean like my relationship with my grandpa because although he crashed like the wave, his ideas and his image live in me forever just like the wave goes back into the ocean.
I Don’t Ever Want to Be a Human Being by Yoni Bork | Agoura High School | Westlake Village, CA
Hello, my name is Yoni Bork and I am a sixteen year-old junior at Agoura High School. I wrote a song for the beautiful minds challenge. When I first took on the challenge, I was thinking for hours and hours about times I’ve taken “the road less traveled by” in my life, and I came to the conclusion that my whole life is a road less traveled by. The song talks about how I don’t self-identify or connect with most teenagers my age and how I see myself as being made from such a completely different mold than my peers are. While my peers are out gossiping and partying, I’m at home thinking up ways I can better the world. The title, “I Don’t Ever Want to be a Human Being” refers to how I don’t want to live my life in the same generic way that everybody does. I want to make something out of my life and I feel like I really have the power to “wake up” the world with my music if I put my all into it. Thank you so much for considering me in this challenge, I can’t wait to hear back from you!
A Musical Journey Down the Path Less Traveled by Oliver Zeichner | VAST Program | Northfield, VT
Music is a path that takes you to distant lands. When you are hot and dusty from travel, it leads you by a waterfall; when you are cold, it leads you to a cozy seat by the fire. Whatever you are capable of imagining is possible. That’s the feeling I get when I play traditional Irish music.
One of my favorite instruments in the tradition is the uilleann bagpipes: It’s clear sound is versatile enough to bring out the feeling in slow, emotional airs, as well as rousing, lively, make-you-want-to-dance jigs and reels. The sound is one that caused me to start my journey in folk music and start learning the instrument.
The path is like the trickle of a spring, slowly filling into pools and then growing from a slow moving stream to a chattering brook, and then a river which eventually washes into a bigger river and finally, to the ocean. When I began piping two years ago, I could barely coax more than a squawk out of the chanter, but in time my understanding of the instrument grew, and I could play simple pieces. With patience and an open mind, I have come to where I am now, somewhat proficient on the instrument and able to enjoy the results despite the challenges and work involved. The path to perfection is never ending, but like an experienced traveler must, I have learned to stop and look back at the view along the way.
Learning the intricacies of the tunes is a journey that is still ongoing for me, and I have certainly not mastered the uilleann pipes. The number of younger people playing the music in the area is not large, and often as not I am the youngest musician in the room. My instrument and the musical genre I play in are definitely the path less traveled for my age group, where most would rather partake in rap or other music associated with popular culture.
How I’ve Coped with Anxiety and Depression by Emma Studebaker | Alexander Hamilton High School | Los Angeles, CA
Over the course of the past month, creating this Beautiful Minds Challenge project has become very tangible proof of how far I’ve come in a year.
Last November, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I turned to therapy to try and alleviate my symptoms first. We later added psychiatry into the mix. Although I continue with therapy and take medication now, I’ve realized that clinical treatments–what may work for most people–don’t necessarily work for me.
I need something that helps reach the goal of not being stuck in these treatments forever… something that allows me to depend on myself. When I’m trying to perfect my kicks at karate, making art that deconstructs and rearranges the subject, or playing with sounds and chords on the piano, I feel an inner calm that lasts much longer than when I simply take medication or go to therapy.
Aside from the emotional journey that was the focus of this project, the creative process was a journey too. I had to storyboard my concept, map out when I could film, coordinate borrowing a camera to use, organize my time to accommodate homework among other things, and edit everything together.
As I reflect on this process, I see that my “road less traveled” lies in discovering concrete remedies for my maladies.
Me & Nicodermus by Ciat Conlin | Homeschool | Falmouth, MA
It was late September, and I found myself with quite a bit of time on my hands in Tallahassee, Florida. I was visiting a friend of mine who was attending college there, and had arrived around ten that morning. She had classes for most of the day and suggested I hang around the campus, but I’ve always enjoyed exploring new places, so I decided to find out what Tallahassee had to offer.
About 15 minutes into my adventure, I was hopelessly lost. I was looking for a comic book store which was either on Moore or Mason Street. I was somewhere on the main drag, but not exactly sure which way I had come from. Behind me were a check-cashing store, a gas station, and a textbook store; ahead, a homeless shelter and a Popeye’s. But there was also a bus stop with a person sitting in it, so I opted to head that way and see if he or she knew where the comic book shop, and I, was.
The figure at the bus stop was a large man in a black novelty t-shirt that read “I’M RIGHT 97% OF THE TIME WHO CARES ABOUT THE OTHER 4%?” Though he was able to direct me to Mason Street (as its name turned out to be), I forgot his directions almost the moment after he told them to me. He offered to show me the way himself if I would buy him some lunch, and having nothing much else to do for the next several hours, we went to the Popeye’s that was beckoning to the right of the bus stop.
Once finished, we set off towards the center of town and for the next few hours he gave me a tour of the city, from phallically protruding state capitol building downtown, to the graveyard (where Ted Bundy was buried), the governor’s mansion (where my tour guide regularly spoke with the governor himself while he was gardening), the federal courthouse (where John Gotti was tried), and the best soul food restaurant in Tallahassee, where he said to take me in repayment the next time I was in town.
As we strolled down the sun-bleached sidewalks, I talked with him about his life since he’d moved to Tallahassee. He said his name was Nicodemus Milton, and he’d moved to the city to be closer to his kids, who lived over the border with their mother in Georgia; prior to that he had been a linebacker in the Cincinnati Bengals. He was trying to get a job in construction, but there weren’t many openings, and he had been living at a homeless shelter across the street from the bus stop where I’d met him. We stopped for a few minutes at a convenience store where I chatted with a couple of his friends while he went in for a beer, then made our way back to the college, being careful to avoid the drug addicts who lined the sidewalk like dead leaves on the rough side of town. As the evening approached, we returned to the bus stop, and I thanked him for showing me around and headed back to the college.
Two days later, I was running to catch my bus at 6:30 with two minutes to go before it was due to depart, and several blocks separating me from the bus station. I was carrying two heavy suitcases, and it didn’t look like I was going to make it. But as I turned a corner, I saw my friend Nicodemus again, and he offered to help me carry my luggage. Together, we were just able to get there in time, and I waved to him as my bus pulled out of the station.
Despite the fact that I only knew Nicodemus for a few hours, this encounter has stayed with me. In between the tall tales was a real person who’d lived a decidedly different life from my own, and while his history of the city was fiction, the history of his life was genuine. Had I not gotten myself lost and chosen to take the road less traveled by accepting his help and company, I most likely would just have passed him by, and would not have had the experience of getting to know Nicodemus for those few hours in late September.
I’ve written songs, stories, and essays trying to convey my experience with Nicodemus Milton, but nothing quite captures the time as clearly as I can picture it in my head. These four pictures represent my personal perspective of the places, and my memories of Nicodemus’ and my adventures on the streets of Tallahassee.
Fallen by the Weighside by Ariel Lancaster and Karuna Kindfield | The Farm School | Summertown, TN
Creating the submission itself was a road less traveled, because neither of us had worked with making a digital presentation prior to this project. Included in our presentation is both photographic representation of my journey and prose telling what I learned and how I got where I am today. In writing about my journey I had to explore depths of my mind that I had willingly left as uncharted territory. My partner, Karuna, had to explore her creativity as she incorporated my prose into a digital presentation.
In submitting my personal story to your judgment, I have stepped well outside my comfort zone. I’ve gone from being the girl who shared nothing about herself to sharing one of my most personal stories with a group of strangers. Life is a journey, everyone has the choice to either stick to the well-paved road or follow a new path. We are both happy to have the opportunity to step off the trail and test new ground.
Border of Light by Eugene Lee | Centennial Christian School International | Gwangmyong-si, South Korea
Call I do the light entrance
Hear I do the light border.
All I long is scent of citrus
But all they tell is good of order
In this dark hollowness
The passage of empty wind
Where we bear callow teeth
Since light has fled as if it sinned.
Old and wise all held my wings;
More I hear the treasure it brings
I know my eyes are not for shines
But dust I’ll find in dark of mines.
Bats are poor creatures. Even though an awesome superhero Batman was named after them, their living is pathetic. They lurk in dark caves, upside-down, eating worms and bugs that live in their dungs. I bet Batman himself doesn’t like bats, to be honest.
Still, in my poem, the narrator is a bat who wanted to escape from the dark, gloomy cave. The reason why I chose such miserable thing as my poem is because some of the bats, depending on the species, can actually live outside the caves. Our bat, the narrator, does not know whether he is right kind of bat to enjoy the light. Bats around him, especially the older and wiser ones, advise him to stay where he is. Usually it is safer to do what others do and what others ask you to do. However, the bat that stays in the cave will not even have a chance to find out whether he’s the right kind or not. Sometimes, it is necessary to challenge what others do not usually do to see beyond.
I just wanted to say this through my poem- don’t be afraid to take a road less taken. Not every steps we take will be the same as other’s; I sincerely hope not. Sooner or later we all have to take our own steps and make our own roads. The roads may not always take you where we want to go, but surely it will be a valuable experience for other steps.
The Journey is Life by Katherine McCaffery and Mary Kate Dockery | St. Agnes Academy | Memphis, Tennessee
As teenagers, it’s not common to stay at school on a Friday night, and even less so to stay there to ponder the meaning of life. But that’s what we did. We struggled with the idea of a ‘road less traveled’ and in searching for this road we realized something unexpected: the ultimate road you travel is life, and as original beings, the road each of us travel down is a road less traveled.
We share a common identification as ‘old souls.’ We listen to older music and read classic literature. Most importantly though, we think about what most teenagers don’t: the meaning of life. The following two paragraphs are our own personal views of a ‘road less traveled’:
Mary Kate: In an era where phrases such as “YOLO” and “SWAG” are so prominent, the main focus of teenagers is to live in the moment, to only think about the here and now. Therefore, the road less traveled that I took was choosing not to be so close minded, to think about the entirety of life. There is so much more to life than daily high school routines. People have taken some amazing roads less traveled in the past, such as discovering America, writing symphonies, and building rockets. Even in the future, people will choose new paths. However, the first step of taking the road less traveled is thinking, and we have taken that first step down our road of life.
Katherine: Personally, I view life as a journey determined by the choices we make. I am a romanticist, however, and I believe in fate; some things are meant to be. They are set in stone and immovable. Others are flexible and bending, yielding to the will of those who have the strength and determination to change them. Fate and human intervention combine to form what we know as life. Humans have the power to change fate through the choices they make. These choices may go on to completely change not only their own path, but the paths of all those who come after them. Though contradictory, these two philosophies contain in them my view of a ‘road less traveled.’
Life is a road; it has turns, stop signs, and hills. Each of us travels down the same road of life, but none of us have the same journey. Some people take the highway, going through life at breakneck speed, never looking back but only ahead. Others prefer the city streets, with various stops and turns. Still others take the country roads, the ‘scenic route,’ where they take time to admire the scenery and maybe even stop for a picnic. Death is not the end of the road, nor is it the beginning of a new one–it is a continuation of the road we are already on, but it is a road no one can see until it is upon us.
No one experiences the same experiences, says the same words, sees the same sights, or thinks the same thoughts; so, in effect, every life is a road less traveled. Every journey is new as every person is original.
Helping the Homeless by Catherine “Lee” Chiozza and Jennifer Jones | St. Agnes Academy | Memphis, Tennessee
There is an average of 633,782 homeless people in the United States in 2013. Many of them are lonely, suffering mentally and physically, hungry, and being ignored by people in the community. We witnessed homeless people on the streets in Memphis, Tennessee. There were homeless women and men asking for money for food, and they were being shunned or neglected in the community.
We witnessed a woman standing on the side of the street holding a sign that says, “Homeless and Hungry.” Many cars driving by did not stop to help the woman nor did anyone attempt to give her money or food. In fact, most of the people in their cars turned their head or did not look at her. However, we wanted to reach out and take the road less travelled by giving her some money to have a warm meal.
The homeless man, seen in the video, named Morris has been without permanent shelter for over ten years. He spends time outside a Memphis Midtown office building. He is well known to business people working in the area. Morris is known to be harmless and friendly on most days. We saw him asking individuals for money. He looked unkept, cold and hungry. Most people avoided him or did not want to help with his requests. We approached him with a bag that included snacks, canned food, utensils, toiletries, a blanket, and a few dollars.
We wanted to bring some joy to those less fortunate believing they were indeed hungry. We know we cannot make an impact alone but hope others will take the road less travelled. We hope to offer some generosity and kindness to those in need.
Offering Hope to the World by Princess Mae Visconde and Sherlynn Garces | James Campbell High School | Ewa Beach, HI
For the beautiful minds challenge we decided to choose the journey of our faith as the “road less traveled.” From our perspective we find that in today’s society there are not many teenagers who go to church or respect the churches view on life. We chose this as our journey because we wanted to show how we took the road that is less traveled in today’s world. Throughout our journey we learned more about our faith through catechism classes, church retreats, events, and church ministries. As Catholics, our faith journey is our growing relationship with God and through our video we allowed you to take a glimpse of our continuous journey.
High school was where we both started to learn more about Catholicism and figured out where exactly we stood in our faith. Throughout the years, we were both able to strengthen our faith within ourselves and our God through our faith journeys. We are able to fall back on our faith when everything around us falls apart. We chose to take catechism classes and to get confirmed in the Catholic Church to further commit our lives the way Jesus wants us to. Through this commitment, we are on a continuous journey with Christ. We were chosen by God to walk on this faith journey with Him.
Through the course of our journey we learned how important it is to have faith. Having faith is everything. We learned that no matter what, God is always going to be there. God is there through our struggles and he is there through our victories. Through this journey, we have learned and experienced how great God’s love truly is and how all He wants is for us to be with Him in heaven. We have learned to accept that God allows hardships to happen to show us that we are strong and that we are blessed. This journey has opened our eyes, our minds, and our hearts more to understand what God has in store for each of us.
We are able to see ourselves grow in our faith but we are also able to bring others along this journey to grow as well. We offer hope to one another through prayer and through our never ending love for God and others. We seek that everyone finds hope in Christ, the way we did. We offer hope by sharing our faith journeys and how this journey has changed our lives for the better.
Our journey of faith has been nothing but beautiful. It’s beautiful to see how much we both have grown in our faith and to see the outcome of it in our own lives. It’s beautiful to see how our own hardships and struggles can be true blessings that are in disguise. For others to see how strong of a heart we have for God at our age is amazing. This journey is beautiful because we’re helping to grow the kingdom of God. Our faith journey is truly amazing and we have seen it inspire others to start walking their faith journey.
It Feels So Scary, Getting Old by Hannah Hudson | Lakeside High School | Martinez, GA
My journey in discovering music, and myself in the process, has helped me in so many ways. Music has changed my life exponentially. A song can encapsulate a single moment, a single emotion, and allow you to relive that moment over and over again. String these moments together and you have a story. It’s fair to say that everyone experiences this, but it’s also a fair assessment to say that not everyone truly lives in the singular moments that music presents us with. As Dave Grohl said, “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”
Music gives voice to the thoughts and emotions that you didn’t have the words to express. It can ground you, and it can give you wings. It’s difficult to fully express how music has impacted my life and my love for it (unfortunately I have yet to find a song that does this for me). Music has become my friend on those days when I don’t quite feel like talking to anyone else in ‘real life.’ It drowns out all of the useless chatter that pounds against my temple otherwise. It makes me feel safe. Bands, in addition, have opened up to me what doing what you really love looks like. That’s not to say that they’re the only ones who love what they do, they’re just the ones that made me realize that not everyone does things purely for the money. They inspire me to pursue what genuinely makes me happy. When you see such small-town nothings rise to fame, it’s hard not to believe in your own dreams of success and happiness.
I hope that through this playlist you are able to experience with me the journey I have gone on, from before I discovered music, to afterwards. Though, once I managed to discover music and hear its message, I found that music wasn’t the summit of my journey. Music is the rock that supports me as I decide to make that journey. It’s the voice that whispers comfort in my ear. Music is what makes the journey possible.
First, a brief explanation of my submission, the playlist itself, since it’s a bit abstract:
Everyone listens to music, but no two people hear the same song in the same way. For some people, music is just nice; for others, it’s like their lifeblood, as essential as air. Personally, I could listen to music all day, uninterrupted, if I had the right playlist. Every moment between classes that I can steal, I listen to music. Not all people truly love and experience music, and that is why this is my interpretation of “a road less traveled.”
Of course, it would be very difficult to construct a playlist centered around the love of music since not many songs actually focus on this concept, much like it would be hard to find a book on books. So instead, I chose to do the next best thing: create a playlist that depicts the journey and struggle of growing up. More specifically, growing up with music.
The playlist flows from childhood, to adolescence and the inevitable uncertainty that comes along with it, to when you tentatively test the waters for the first time, and unfortunately discover a shark that bites you on your first try, making you hesitant to try again.
But then, there is music.
It is a revelation. It is empowering. Solace and adrenaline and courage, all condensed into one slick, vinyl package. Suddenly the world is open; it’s an adventure, a challenge just waiting to be answered. You realize that you can do anything, and that you don’t want to miss any opportunity. There’s fresh air in your lungs and a full feeling in your chest.
Finally, you get away, away from the incumbents of the past, away from the familiar. You’re not afraid this time. You travel the world – and you conquer it. You have surmounted every obstacle life has thrown at you, and all because of music. Music is what liberated you and gave you the strength.
My name is Quinn Oliver and I live in Marlboro, Vermont. Enclosed please find my creative submission called: The Voyage of a Lifetime. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading it and gaining a bit of insight into my journey.
On this voyage I have learned quite a lot about myself and who I am, and I hope to learn quite a lot more. I have been out to sea for well over a month and a half now and I’m finding myself appreciating it more and more every day. After the initial struggles of packing up and moving on to a boat for five months and the realization that for the next five months I would be practically be without friends due to the majority of my friends living in vermont and the fact that after a week or so we pack up and sail further southward, the issues have seemed to be sucked away by the beauty of the water. It’s hard to not realize that this is an incredible opportunity, however as my friends don’t understand, even an offer similar to this has quite a few severe draw backs.
I feel that during this journey I have begun to conquer some of my personal fears. Though I have been raised around the water, doing something like this is a completely unknown to me. The fear of the unknown is personally one of my greatest fears. Couple that with my fear of change and those two are a might brew. By undertaking this adventure, I have had to address both of these fears head on. The constantly changing and unreliable schedule has certainly tested my fear of change, while the entire voyage has made me push past my fear of the unknown, for now at least.
I feel I have also learned about myself in a more concrete manner. Before this voyage, I had minimal sailing experience. But now I would even seriously consider the sailing lifestyle for my life. Granted, I would more then likely have to have a close friend or girlfriend aboard with me. The loneliness at times can be intense. However I have found if you keep busy that feeling of dreaded loneliness quickly disappears. Before this trip I had believed in myself to an extent, but now I believe that I can do almost anything I decide to put my heart into.
My Path Through Make Believe Reality by Anna Keeva | Evanston Township High School | Evanston, IL
Some people travel by sidewalk or train, but I dance, or fly, or ride on the back of a talking pig to get to where I want to go. The road I travel is an imaginary one. As I’ve grown up, I’ve held on tightly to the made up games and imaginary friends that flooded my childhood. I always have a song in my head and a fictional world in my eyes. I use my creativity and imagination to propel me through life. My path is always expanding with new turns and discoveries and then I get so full of ideas that they bubble up out of me and transform into art. Instead of getting caught up in the repetition and stress around me, I dance and sing down my own magical path.
I have learned how not to be lonely or bored. I can sit by myself in my room, but be entertained by the communities and creatures that exist in my thoughts and in my art and in my body when I dance and move. I have learned how to appreciate and enjoy even the dullest of places by becoming an explorer and creating my own stories and history. I have learned to make a long car ride in the dark a magical and exciting adventure. I have learned to understand and connect with the various people I meet that resemble the characters I know so well in my mind. I have learned how to make anything exciting and entertaining. I have learned that “real” has many meanings. And I have learned that with creativity and imagination, a straight, dull path turns into a twisting, exciting one and that on this kind of path, life is a whole lot more fun.
It’s a Feeling by Alek Lockhart | Southwest High School | Minneapolis, MN
Link to video here:
My road less traveled was a river. I was on it for 30 days with some friends. I learned on that journey that a road less traveled isn’t a just remote area that not many people have been to; it’s a feeling. I can only draw on my experiences, but I get the same feeling that I got on that trip when I do something new on my skateboard, or come at a math problem from a new direction. Anything can get you there; it’s all up to you.
I learned that whatever I do, I could get that feeling from it. That changed my life. I strive to do things in a new and different way, because I love the feeling of walking on that road. I hope you like my movie.
Going on Foot by Louisa Perry-Farr | Lexington Catholic High School | Lexington, KY
Here is the saddest moment of my life: a fly with only one wing.
I spread strawberry jelly over a piece of bread as I watch him. Crawling.
Crawling after flying.
After being able to lift and dive and swoop.
After taking flight at the slightest hint of danger, he crawls. I put a piece of bread on top of the jelly.
How cruel, for him to have lost his livelihood and not his life.
There is no hope for a fly who cannot fly, yet he continues.
He cannot understand how soon his life will end. I cannot eat the sandwich.
We sit together- he crawling, continuing to tramp his perpetual journey.
Me crying, knowing that his journey will be as short as his life was unappreciated.
Knowing that I once crawled.
Knowing that I only had the courage to crawl, because I knew I would fly again.
My journey is an unconventional one. The journey that I wrote about is not only mine, but what I imagined the journey of my companion (the fly) to be. I have always been empathetic to the suffering of other creatures, but it was watching that particular fly that both brought me to tears and to a realization about myself. I learned that I am not “more than” that fly. Human beings have a bad habit of placing ourselves on the top of the totem pole, when we should be the farthest on the bottom. I don’t say this because I’m an eccentric loner who hates other people (because I’m not). I say this because human beings are the only creatures with the ability to fully comprehend the difference between right and wrong, and yet we continue to commit heinous crimes against each other and other creatures. What I mean when I say I am not “more than” that fly is that my suffering is not more important than his. His life is not made legitimate or illegitimate by my observing him. He is his own being, and his pain is as real as my pain would be if I lost a leg. In fact, his pain is greater, because I can survive with one leg. His chances of survival disappeared when he lost his wing. In observing him, I thought about the times in my life when I had lost something dear to me. My only feeling towards that fly is admiration, because I never would have had the courage to crawl, if I hadn’t had the foresight to know I could fly again. Of course, the fly didn’t know about his impending doom, and he can’t think about the future. But knowledge isn’t what makes a creature great. When you have done exactly what you were born to do, and harmed none in the process, that is when you are great. I can honestly say that the fly has beaten me to greatness, and is far nearer to spiritual perfection than I am. But that is where our journey intersects. His ends with crawling.I am crawling towards who I am meant to be now. I can at least hope that my journey will end in flight.
Just the Way You Are by Jennifer de Haro and Judith Olascoaga | Arroyo Valley High School | San Bernadino, CA
These days, all people do is try their best to fit in with what society shows. They need to have the latest trend. They need to be the type of skinny they see on their television or magazine. They need to have better clothes than everyone. In our opinion, life shouldn’t be that way. Mostly everyone tries to take the easy road and be like everyone else. They don’t see what they really are in the inside. They care about what others see in them when they should care about how they see themselves. Calling themselves ugly, fat, fake, etc. doesn’t help them. Rather, they should focus on the good things about them like their personality, their beautiful eyes, hair, etc. They need to be unique. Going through the road we took we realized being yourself is something we should all do. This experience showed us fitting in with everyone isn’t how life should be. One of us was close to taking the common road but knew that wasn’t the right path.
The reason we wrote this is to help others. We need a world where being ourselves isn’t something strange. These days you get judged by anything! This road we took should be taken more. Who cares if you aren’t what people want you to be? Be yourself. That’s what this is all about.
All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.
First Place – Left and Right by Erica Schneider | Voyagers’ Community School | Brick, NJ
Many would say there are two sides to a person. To me, this is true in the way of a past and present self, or more accurately, who you once were and how it’s affected and related to who you’ve become. Time changes so much in a person’s life, especially when it’s concentrated in the urgent period of four years that make up high school. Each person who enters a building as a freshman and emerges a graduate goes through an assortment of life-altering experiences. Whether this includes hardships, falling in love, or discovering a talent and passion that could turn into a lifelong career, the high-school journey is one of self-growth, self-discovery, and revelation.
What I’ve produced represents my transformation from freshman to senior year. On the right side is a distant version of myself, seconds away from entering that high-school door for the first time. When I did walk through, I was weighed down by a heavy striped jacket two sizes too big. My impression of the new environment was obscured by the tangle of chopped hair blanketing most of my eyes. My silent plea was to be left to dwell in my lonely artist’s mind, undisturbed by any interference.
To this day, I will deny that I was ever transgendered. Even back then, prior to wisdom and awareness, I knew that gender identity crises were, more often than not, phases. With that in mind, I still summoned my best efforts to appear as the opposite gender. My hair was styled as any typical boy’s was at the time; my baggy, oversized clothes shielded any questioning eyes from my feminine stature; and, when spoken to, I responded in a voice deeper than what was natural.
Even though it certainly appeared that way, my intention was not to be a boy, but simply to be hidden from any external forces. One thing I learned about people during this period was that when they looked at another and felt unsure about his or her gender, they would rather avoid than approach. For me, this was absolutely perfect! Until it wasn’t.
I really didn’t want isolation, and I wasn’t satisfied with who I was pretending to be, but I also didn’t want to return to the person I was in middle school, either. So I began to experiment, constantly itching to be someone more interesting, more talented, and more confident. I pulled together outfits that resembled a frightening cross between Carrie Bradshaw and Brandon Teena from Boys Don’t Cry. There had to be some better way to express myself, and I finally found it in a most honest and natural way: writing.
Being a writer was something I’d wanted to do since I was eleven years old and devoured my copy of Pretty Little Liars. My choice in reading material has matured tastefully since then, and so has my writing. I explored my personal identity confusion on paper.
Over those next three years, I created the story of Oliver, born (a female) Olive, the mute photographer who does everything in his power to become the person he’s always aspired to be. When I suffered, triumphed, or felt any array of emotion, so did Oliver. This helped me discover who I wanted to be, which was something I realized need not be rushed or predetermined. I made this true for Oliver too, who by the end of the story, found his voice and acceptance from himself and others, as well as something even more elusive… happiness.
On the left side of my portrait, I’m smiling, adorned by a sensible accessory, and not only comfortable but excited to take on the world as a writer and a young woman. I’m college-bound and appreciative of each aspect of my life. I see not good nor bad, but opportunities for joy and growth. I have a boyfriend, an artistic career as a backup and side plan, and an extraordinary future ahead of me. I’m also well aware that although I’ve moved on from my ninth-grade self, it’s still a part of me, and so, the two sides of my portrait are equal in size and detail. They are not defined by labels such as up and down, bad and good, immature and mature, but simply left and right, because it takes all the parts to make a whole person.
Second Place –A Compromise Revolution: The Beauty of Diversity by Saron Zewdie | Francis L. Cardozo Educational Campus | Washington, DC
Link to video here: http://youtu.be/dmX3iwVgXl8
Every vision I express originates from my personal experience. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with high myopia, an eye condition that causes severe nearsightedness . Although I am a very vibrant person and always smile through hard times, I had a fairly difficult childhood, because my classmates joked about the thick and large glasses I used to wear as a little girl.
I accepted my condition. The glasses are wore were the best glasses for my prescription which started from a negative eight since I first got diagnosed.But others failed to see that my condition was beyond my control. Why couldn’t they accept how I was? I did. So how hard could it be for others to accept me as well?
When I was seven, my parents entered me into a German Church School hoping to find a sponsor for me. Although I’ve had my share of good and bad experiences, there was one thing about me that stood out: For some reason that is unclear to me, I’ve always had a greater, more natural fluency in English than my peers. Because of this, I was always the one called upon to introduce our class whenever people from Germany came to visit us. That was surely a privilege, but the other kids hated me for it, and things went on like that.
As I got older, I began noticing the look in the visitors eyes as well. The looks made me feel like they were looking down upon us, and it was more directed to me because I was the one I was the one standing doing the introduction. It is amazing how much one look can say. Finally, one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember, I was in seventh grade, three German visitors came inside our class, escorted by our Director. It was Science period, and as usual I was called upon to introduce our class. But this time, I refused. They were standing there looking at me, this time with more of a surprise. That felt much better and so I continued to do so, my teacher did everything to get me up since they couldn’t hear Amharic, our language, she ordered me, she even came around and screamed at me.
For the first time I was not standing, but sitting down for something. But I was young and not sure how to express myself, so no one could understand why I did what I did. Although expressing it would have gotten me in more trouble, I believe that there is a way that we could have come to an understanding and some sort of compromise.
In this same way, I believe that a compromise amongst the diverse races of our world and the desire to live together in peace is at the essence of what true humanity.
Through five millenniums of human history, there have been 620 known and recorded revolutions. Although there is an assumption that one side was victorious, virtually all revolutions have resulted in major loss and devastation on both sides. And, after centuries of understanding ourselves and our inseparable connection with each other and the world around us, I believe that it is about time we achieve a new kind of revolution— A revolution that is created for the favor of all. I sincerely believe that even those who like fight for separation will appreciate the virtue of compromise, once they get used to it.
There is a need for a revolution, but a revolution that neither keeps Rosa Parks sitting while the white man stands, nor one that gets her out of her seat for him. We need a revolution that provides a chair where both people can sit. I know that today, sitting together on a bus is nothing new. But I also know that throughout my stay in U.S., equality and harmony still have not been achieved.
If we looked at how things work in harmony in nature, we’d find it to be the source of eternal growth and peace. Every human invention is not necessarily an original idea, but merely proof of what this wonderful world has already provided us. Therefore, we must preserve it and discover a way for civilization and nature to co-exist. If we fail to do so, not only will we fail to grow, but we will fail ourselves and humanity as a whole.
Shall we ever learn the positive lessons found in compromise, the result will be diversity of thought, diversity of expression and ultimately, diversity of the human race. In this diverse state of being, we are all beautiful.
Third Place – Three Roads Not Taken by Alessandro Pane | Mt. Blue High School | Wilton, ME
NOTE: Audio recording contains some profanity.
I was first introduced to Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken when I sang the Randall Thompson setting of the poem in my high school chorus two years ago. Over the past few months I’ve found myself thinking back to the poem as I am now a senior in high school, and facing one of the first important crossroads as I look at my post-graduate possibilities.
My piece consists of three episodes: a Dante-esque descent into a rigid music-only education, a gap year in Joyce’s Dublin, and a beat-poet-inspired exploration of a life rejecting expectation. These are roads I do not intend to take, but instead are responses to “And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth” as examinations of roads that are ultimately not traveled, yet inform the eventual path. During my examination of these potential roads through the lens of travel literature (The Inferno, Ulysses, and On The Road), the project took many forms, often integrating disparate disciplines to express a single idea. In reflecting on this journey of creation, I have learned that I too must forge my own path: a road inspired by the others not taken.
“There is no end or purpose to existence, only ceaseless creation and destruction, governed entirely by chance.” Stephen Greenblatt, paraphrasing Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
The chance that a saguaro seedling will survive to adulthood is almost non-existent. First, the seed has to find its way into the shade of another plant, manage to survive months of dryness while only being able to store a couple of drops of water, and stay warm enough not to freeze during cold winter nights. The seedling must deal with these challenges for anywhere between 38 to 135 years. The probability that a saguaro survives to adulthood is so slim that the forests of 60 ft tall saguaros in the Sonoran Desert seem like they shouldn’t exist.
My work explores the chance of survival, the probability of existence, a struggle with unpredictability, specifically those surrounding the human body, coming to terms with control, power, and lack there of, and the likelihood of producing something complete or finished.
These themes are questioned through building a surface out of layers, pulling forms from the background, accenting particular moments, and by the use of previously conceived societal frameworks and images.
“The support of friends, strong motivation, and a good pair of shoes have indeed given me super powers.” I said this well over a year ago as I was chronicling my “Champion journey,” part of the Healthy Monadnock 2020 program to make southwestern New Hampshire the healthiest region in the nation. It has now been over three years since I started, three years of making healthy changes and especially three years of race walking, a long-distance, hip-swiveling, foot-racing event. Three years, and NOW, I’ve race walked a marathon. How did THAT happen??
After several more races of varying lengths, I decided I wanted to set the bar really high. I wanted to celebrate this new strength and wellness I have been feeling. I wanted to see just how far I could go. At first, I tentatively said to a couple of people, “I’m going to race walk in the DeMar Marathon this year.” I’m not sure I believed myself at that point. I don’t know if others believed that I believed it either. But then, at a particular friend gathering, emboldened by their support, I declared it aloud. “I’m going race walk a marathon before the end of the year.” Specifically, I knew that I needed to do the DeMar in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene is where my wellness journey started, where so many friends have watched and supported me on my path to strive for my healthiest self. Keene is where I learned to race walk with the guidance and camaraderie of my friend, Linda. On May 10th, I officially began training.
My actual training was mostly solitary, accompanied only by my tiny iPod Shuffle and various world music club dance bands. My journey to DeMar was made possible by an intricately woven community. Whatever I needed, there was someone who would slip into play, ninja-like, with exactly what I needed. Words of encouragement? There were at least five to six different friends willing and able to give those at any given time. Recommendations on training? Two other friends were RIGHT there. Recommendations on the best non-soy protein bars? More friends! Parking for positioning my car at just the right juncture for my longer training race walks? I even had that. I had at least two different driveways I could have used! Overnight shipping replacement Nike Frees when I needed them IMMEDIATELY for a 15 mile training day? I definitely have to shout out to fellow champion, Ted McGreer and Ted’s Shoe & Sport for that one. From loaning me a Camelbak for training to mapping out training routes in Maine and California when I was on vacation, there were always friends and family right there with me.
I also felt that with each increase in mileage, with each passing week, I was more and more capable of doing this major, difficult, thing. My own fire and determination kept on burning no matter what. If I can radically change my diet and wellness and lose 102 pounds, I can surely race walk 26.2 miles! Even on the REALLY rough days, like the 14-miler when I didn’t have any food and got sick for two days or the 18-miler when I pitched forward and crashed to the road trying to race walk and fiddle with my Camelbak, and chew my snack, I STILL felt okay. I felt more than okay. In thunderstorms, coldness, darkness, 90 degrees and burning sun, on dirt, pavement, hills and flatness, I simply KNEW I could do this and I was never alone. I carried the support of my community with each step.
On the actual day of the race, of course I was absolutely not alone. My friend Linda, who decided to join me for the last eight miles, recommended I find another friend in the race to keep the miles flying by. And I did just that. For seven miles, I befriended a wonderful man from just outside of Boston. We shared race and life stories while we kept pushing each other with our respective paces. After he dropped back, I knew it was only a few more miles until Linda was jumping in to join me. Plus, there were the countless enthusiastic, supportive race fans, friends and complete strangers, cheering, singing, dressing up in amusing costumes, holding up signs, and holding all of us up as we all continued on this difficult, exhausting and exhilarating journey. And so I’ve come full circle and can say once again:
“The support of friends, strong motivation, and a good pair of shoes (even ones shipped overnight!) have indeed given me super powers.”
In walking, according to cultural theorist Paul Connerton, we constitute ourselves as a coherent organism. Walking is at once an act of organic self-unification and an act which builds up for us a coherent environment. Walking, for us all, demonstrates our total organism.
Next time you walk, whether its 10 feet or 10 miles, allow yourself moments within steps to bring an awareness of your presence. Walk slowly and patiently, taking a breath as you lift your foot, and exhaling as your foot meets the earth.
In walking, we draw with our passing our very own time line. It’s mind boggling to take a few moments, turn around, and see the many empty spaces in thought we have all too hurriedly ceased to acknowledge.
I am pretty darn old and have had plenty of amazing physical journeys in this world. I have been stopped by gun-toting border patrols in Cote d’Ivoire and gotten lost backpacking along the “Lost Coast” of California. I swam with whale sharks in Western Australia and tracked snow leopards in the Himalayas. But I want to tell you about a recent journey that beats all of these experiences for shear, unmitigated, nail-biting suspense and drama: I learned to video.
Sure, for most of you who grew up with iMovie and Roombas and smart phones that do everything but walk your dog for you, that may not sound so transformational. But for me, a relative luddite, one could say a technophobe, learning how to shoot, edit, and produce videos that don’t look like total doo-doo was a huge and very satisfying accomplishment.
I’ve climbed lots of mountains, and learning to produce videos was a very similar kind of journey: namely steep. There was the moment near the beginning where it all looked so big and overwhelming and lost in the clouds that I considered waiting until another time, when I was more sure. There were many times when I was in the thick of it, deep in the forest of new techniques, overwhelming material, head-down plodding, when I didn’t know if I would ever come out on top of it all. And there was the exhilaration of reaching the top, and being able to see all that I had accomplished with new perspective and sense of purpose.
Unlike a mountain, which has a finite top, videos can always be improved upon, adjusted, tweaked, fine-tuned, honed, and otherwise fiddled with. In fact, one of the greatest challenges is knowing when to stop. At any rate, I share this sample of my work as an example of my journey, and perhaps how far I still I have to go:
the feathers are spread out all over the gravelly ground. spatters of blood add color to a landscape dominated by browns, grays and soiled whites. the air is thick and the mood is somber. death hovers; tears perilously balance on the edges of eyelids. people of many ages stand with me–girls as young as 10 and older men and women in their thirties, even forties. and then, the people my age–we’re all here to bear witness, but we’re also here to make sacrifices.
the life of one chicken seems insignificant. chickens, after all, are certifiably stupid animals. they do little but walk around on their spindly little legs, clawing at bits of earth and, every so often, attempting to fly–a feat they cannot accomplish, in spite of the fact that they do indeed possess wings. a fairly low maintenance farm animal, even the smallest backyards can accommodate chickens and chicken coops. some chickens lay eggs, some chickens are pets, and some chickens are raised to be killed.
some people would call us murderers. standing on that ground smeared with blood and fallen feathers, the slitting of a neck and the squawking–those ceaseless high-pitched screams–as the only consistent sounds permeating the stiff air, it would be hard to argue otherwise. we raised these chickens, named some of them, fed them, loved them. and only to stand by each other, as we each take turns slitting their throats.
i do not derive joy from slaughtering chickens; rather, an emotional void takes over my body in the face of this action. but in the moments following their deaths, i am reminded that this road less commonly travelled is an important one: these killings will fill my stomach and the stomachs of many others. and at these times–when the animals die in my hands–i can eat honestly, filling my consciousness even more than my stomach.
According to the dictionary beauty is a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp. the sight. To me, beauty is the place where nature and human elegance connect. My creation exemplifies this.
The top portion of my gown is made with leaves. Not just any leaves, Fall leaves. Fall leaves represent wisdom, experience, character, and uniqueness that only comes with time and exposure to life. Their unique, deep purplish-red color give them the look of a tough sturdy leather, leather that is like the thick skin of a person who has endured many test and trails. These leaves represent the beautiful memories of the past and the promise of a new beginning in the future.
The sheer, bottom portion represents the free flowing grace that is poured upon each one of us in abundance. It heals the hurts, strengthens the weak, and shows favor to so many. Its song soothes the soul, and brings peace and joy to the heart. Beauty is the place where nature and human elegance connect.
Erica Siclari | Fiorello H. LaGuardia H.S. ’13 | Brooklyn, NY
For the Beautiful Minds Challenge I decided to bring light to something I find very beautiful, cycles. I find cycles to be beautiful mainly because cycles are imperative for understanding our world, and with that understanding come discoveries that have and will continue to predict future events. Without cycles, scientist would not be able to predict anything. Facts would be random pieces of information instead of important clues to a puzzle. Cycles are beautiful because they are the key to knowledge.
In my video I recreated a cycle of plant life in an ecosystem. Each plant is going through its own biological cycle along with a cycle in its ecosystem. In addition to the plant life cycles I needed to present the cycle of time (day-night) and water in the video in order to indicate that cycles are not only found everywhere but they all work together to sustain life.
I wrote a short poem to emphasize the beauty of a cycle in a more creative genre of writing:
Beauty is a Cycle
Beauty is a cycle
A sequence of events
Folding maladroitly into a flawed shape
Each cycle resembles a circle but isn’t
These imperfections are what make it unique
Cycles are unique but they are not random
They are mathematical
Whether the object is biotic or abiotic
The same basic rules apply:
What was once created will never again be once it has been destroyed
Something else will inhabit its space and claim it theirs
Oblivious to a time before its own
Something so real
Is often overlooked
But taking a moment to witness something as real
As a cycle is true beauty
Beauty cannot be defined in simple terms, as the meaning of beauty varies between each individual. However, most individuals circle back to a generalized meaning of beauty, settling on expressing the ‘true you’ behind the layers of society-driven examples: being yourself without any sort of filter or alteration to make yourself fit in.
Through extensive planning and underpainting, I built up layers upon layers of paint and ideas atop the canvas. It acts as a background for the sculpture element of my piece, showing a pair of mannequin hands puppeteering a pair of marionette handles which control a group of businessmen. The businessmen are all drab and exact replicas of each other, doing mundane activities that take little to no effort or creativity. Breaking out of the canvas is the representation how creative, unique, and different people feel: smothered by the pressure of today’s mundane society and expectations. All the feelings of these individuals are condensed into the body and mannerisms of one orange-haired man.
Ridding himself of his necktie (which is far too similar to a noose for his liking), suit jacket, and crisp white shirt, he has broken free of the grasp society held on him. Underneath the uniform that he’s forced himself to wear, is a bright patterned shirt – just the start to his individuality escaping its confinements. Atop his head is his bright orange hair, the only thing he could get away with in the dull, cubicle work he had previously. He would get dirty looks for its bright color and longer-than-crew-cut style. But he didn’t care. He was going to express himself however he could.
He was someone who wanted to attend art school (maybe even Marlboro College) but settled for a desk job to appease his parents, friends, and the expectations of society. But not anymore. Now, he has broken free. He severed the ball and chain attaching him to some no-name company and he is on his way to being himself, without hiding anymore. After all, being yourself is the most beautiful thing of all.
The following submissions — posted in alphabetical order by the entrants’ first name — each earned a invitation to the Beautiful Minds Symposium at Marlboro College, February 21-23, 2013. Enjoy the incredible thoughtfulness, creativity and diversity of ideas!
New Year’s Party in The Jolly Old Beast
Alexander Peters | Tampa Preparatory School ’13 | Tampa, FL
The 1850’s would mark the beginning of a new relationship between mankind and the earth. No longer was our planet a divine utopian vision fashioned for our existence, but rather an inherited sphere that had in fact fashioned us. Dinosaurs, the “terrible lizards,” as the scientist Richard Owen dubbed them, apparently had once ruled the landscape in absence of the many examples of fauna that would be recognizable, ourselves included. What posed a problem was the public’s lofty grasp of this concept. Nothing seemed to compare to these animals and all that was available to observe were unskilled scribbles and lumps of rock that meant nothing to an untrained eye. The pioneers of this field were lost in what they were looking at. It would take the hand of an artist to reach the masses and share this novel and humbling concept.
Benjamin “Waterhouse” Hawkins, a born illustrator and sculptor of the natural world, took on this challenge. Working in his homeland of England, the hub of prehistoric discoveries at the time and the very place where anyone had ever identified a dinosaur, Hawkins began his work constructing life size models of the monsters. What was there to go on? Hawkins observed a set of bones belonging to a gigantic herbivorous creature discovered by a man and his wife in some roadside gravel. It had a spike, not too dissimilar to a rhinoceros, broad weight baring bones, unique hips that distinguished it from other reptiles, and teeth of an iguana. Hawkins brought forth a stunning life size menagerie, producing many prehistoric beasts. Among them were the iguana toothed giants, aptly named “iguanodon,” Hulking quadrupeds sporting a nasal horn on their mammoth, beaked heads. Megalosaurus, a disgustingly huge carnivore also swaggered the grounds of the newly constructed Crystal Palace Museum in London.
On New Year’s Eve, 1853, Hawkins invited the founding fathers of the science of paleontology to an unforgettable dinner party, which he hosted inside of one of his pieces, in the open back of his fabulous iguanodon. Some of the most respected scientists of the era, including Curvier, Mantel, Owen, and many others, rejoiced in the event, their eternal legacy now represented by something more than ill attempted drawings and scientific notes. It was the melding of the left and right brain. Art assisted science in a mission that dethroned man from his throne as the principal product of creation, giving us a much grander title. We are certainly not the only species to have ever ruled the earth, but we are the only that can look back and marvel at the wondrous variation of life, as participants and observers. That night almost two centuries ago, myth met fact, extinction met the living, imagination met examination, and the hands of creators met the hands of surveyors. Truly a moment of beauty.
Things have changed quite a bit in that time as far as understanding dinosaurs and their kin. Specifically, iguanodon is now more accurately delineated as a partially bipedal, swift moving plant eater that sports a spike on each thumb, not on its nose. Megalosaurus is currently depicted as a warm blooded predator related to the dinosaurs that would become birds. The original data of those early explorers of the past has been cast aside but there spirit could not be any more inspiring as our understanding of just how grand life on this planet continues to amaze. It is probably best summed up by a song those scientists made up at that New Year’s party, “The jolly old beast is not deceased/ There’s life in him again!”
Alex Ruiz and Odette Blaisdell | Bard High School Early College ’15 | New York, NY
Alex: The question of why our piece is beautiful was extremely frustrating to answer. We couldn’t come to a consensus, we couldn’t even think. Part of the reason that we could not decide whether our piece was beautiful or not was because I felt un-entitled. Who am I to say what is beautiful? What is beauty really?
Odette: Confronting this question forced us to consider what beauty itself is. Answering this made beauty into a looming, frustrating creature, so when we tried to define it, I began to resent beauty overall. Trying so hard to define such indefinance takes away its power. Beauty was no longer beautiful when we attempted to explain it.
Alex: Instead, we examined what is ugly. We thought, perhaps, we could define beauty adversely in this way. Our efforts were futile, not because we couldn’t list things that were ugly, but we quickly discovered that ugliness itself is as indefinable as beauty itself. And though we couldn’t explain it, we still desired to reconcile our feelings with something tangible. Thus, that’s how the process of creating the piece began.
Odette: Our piece began with the image of hairy fingers. This image was completely arbitrary, chosen when Alex said she pulls the tiny hairs from the spaces between the joints of her fingers. Though this idea was no more inspiring than any other image, maybe because it was so random we thought it was an appropriate beginning—something we could expand upon and change. And in a way, the ugliness of this image made it easy to just start working recklessly because there was no pressure to actually capture beauty.
Alex: The impulsivity of how we worked was both frightening and exhilarating. In a way we stepped into this project blindly and because of that it required an incredible amount of faith in something we knew nothing about.
Odette: The many layers and the extended process are part of the beauty of our project. First, we had a month long mission of drawing fifty fingers each. Next, we collaged them in the form of a hand, and filled in any negative space with charcoal details of palm creases. We briefly included words of things we considered ugly, but ultimately we decided to cut them out and leave the hand isolated. Then, by chance we found an old window screen and brought it outside with a tube of black ink to experiment on our piece. The video shows the rest of the process in a compilation of photo and video that transformed our still image into something locomotive. In a way, this is what beauty does: it moves. When something is beautiful, it absolutely pulses with motion–it cannot keep still. Of course, our piece is not beautiful because it literally moves in the video. It has a movement beyond the video. It has motion in the fingers all pointing at each other, and in the viewer’s eyes tracing the directions of the charcoal. Of course, seeing one movement doesn’t encompass everything that’s ever moved, so our piece only has some of the many traits of beauty.
Alex: Despite all of the confusion about how to define our piece, I think a few aspects of the piece possess qualities of beauty that can be found in all objects. Amongst these universal qualities of beauty, I think lies chance, which was a major part of our piece. This is the part of the piece which controls itself, transcending us, the viewer, and even the subject. For example, the chance that our video may have captured some of the fluidity and warmth of the light on that day, which left shiny imprints on the ink as Odette spread it, or the tension with which the screen shifted over our collage, or the fact that fingers, each made individually and without much relation to the others, were able to fit together into to the shape of a hand, or the softness of the paper- all these small elements which were not necessarily in our control, but by chance we were able to capture, resembles a sort of beauty to me. These aspects of the piece which weren’t planned are just as evocative to me as I hope they are to some viewers- my experience when viewing the piece for the first time in it’s completion was just as infantile as your experience viewing it will be.
To expand on the idea of honesty, I think this piece should also be considered beautiful because it was made in the way Odette and I saw it. This is not to say that it is beautiful because we created it, or that it is beautiful because what we personally think is beautiful defines beauty for all of humanity. Rather, I think it is beautiful because Odette and I tried to create it with unbiased eyes- my own perspective and subjective take on beauty I am sure is just as muddled, conflicted, and enigmatic as any other individual’s.
As we stated before, much of the process of creating this piece was random. Therefore, I think it can be said that much of the essence of our piece lies in the idea that reality as we see it, with it’s randomness included, is enough in itself to be considered beautiful. Ultimately, in making this piece we were exploring and becoming comfortable with the idea that what we see is enough to be beauty. A simple finger is enough. Beauty does not have to be eternal, rich, or even rewarding. The ecstatic feeling which comes from viewing beauty, at least I think, lies ultimately in that honest, unrepeatable chance that we get to experience something new, and strange, and in that specific moment that we see it in- beauty is when we feel that moment of impact as so many elements outside of us converge inexplicably, yet undoubtedly. When I witness beauty, I feel fully alive, and fully aware of that convergence: beauty is a pressure point.
Beauty is Healing
Alyssa Jarvis | Antigua Girls High School ’13 | St. Peters, Antigua
Beauty is a thing of elegance that many people yearn for.
A passage way to possibilities, that can’t be bought by rich or poor.
Beauty is perfection only placed upon the chosen.
And just like age it evolves, never frozen.
Time is but its slow death, causing it to fade in the blink of an eye or wipe of sweat.
I believe beauty is our demise fighting to get what was not placed upon us.
Wanting a birth right of beauty.
That we can never trust.
Beauty is my angry scars on my hands and face
Beauty is the horrid past that I cannot erase
Beauty is sin.
Indulgence of vanity.
Decadence of impurity
Beauty is our biggest whim.
We are wrapped around its finger.
And our patience stretched thin
We yearn for beauty.
We die for beauty.
We change for beauty.
Beauty is Beautiful
But the most beautiful part of all
Is picking yourself back up no matter how hard the fall
So I’m stitching up these scars
And making myself new
Because deep down, though you may not see it
I am beautiful too.
Anna Berger | Burr and Burton Academy | Dorset, VT
Growing up in Vermont, I have been accustomed to a landscape so beautiful I could not imagine a childhood without it. We are surrounded by rolling green mountains of forest and ever flowing springs. Needless to say, this is accessible in many backyards. As I’m headed towards another step in life, I have come to realize the importance of this environment. That in order to sustain this beauty that we have known for generations, we must work to create the smallest of human footsteps. Not just take from our land and resources, but also give back so that we can not be left with nothing. Rather leave these lands in better condition to improve both habitats and natural life cycles. To create a beautiful life for ourselves, let us start with changing aspects of our daily lives. Every decision we make to improve the way we live will lead us to another. With positive energy and the drive to make a difference in our own communities, we can experience a life more beautiful than we have ever known.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
Cat Clauss | International Polytecnic Highschool ’13 | San Dimas, CA
Hello my name is Catherine R. Clauss and I am 17 years old. I live in San Dimas California and I go to the International Polytechnic high school in Pomona California. When I first heard about this contest and decided that I would enter a piece, I honestly had no idea what I was going to describe, or depict. But as I sat there in my desk at school and looked around I remembered every thing I had learned from my past group members. I remembered their different opinions, and their different ways in which they saw the world. Each was unique and to me… beautiful. So I created this painting. I know when you first look at this and think of the prompt you may think “This girl didn’t understand the prompt.” But I did. What you see is a bunch of different people, of different ages, and ethnicities, with different things around them. Those different things are the things that individual would think is beautiful.
The old Indian women has her young granddaughter behind her, ready to carry on the traditions of her people, who are shown in a large crowed below the girl. This represents the old woman’s idea of beauty because she loves her customs and religion, and thinks that it is beautiful that her granddaughter and all the generations after her will learn and uphold the traditions she holds so dear. While the 20 year old Asian is surrounded by his home, technology (including the computer coding behind him in the back round.), and some of his culture’s traditional items, like the Kimono. (The middle eastern dragon is often depicted in the Asian culture as a serpent shaped creature, with a brilliant mind, and sometimes even a protector.)Things that surround him in his life and his family’s history and culture that help shape his opinion. The Middle aged Native American is surrounded by scene of nature which he would consider beautiful due to the fact his culture is very oriented on persevering nature. The Caucasian female, would think works of art or writing would be beautiful, as she is surrounded by a painting palette and a quill. The African American teenager is surrounded by fashion and music, and a car she would really like. Last is the young Mexican boy surrounded by different toys and extinct but cool, creatures. Also shown is a scene where he sits with his mother on a wooden rocking chair. These are things that express the beauty of a child’s mind.
Some may think that I am just showing off what others would think are beautiful but I am not, I am showing the beautiful fact that everyone has their own opinion or idea of what beauty is. An idea that is shaped by the ways the person is raised, and the things that surround them as they grow. Things like tradition, family, friends, school, the area they grow up in, all these things help shape their opinion of what beauty is. And their opinions change as they grow and develop their minds. Even when they are as old as 80, their minds and opinions are still changing. This is the beautiful thing I wish to show all of you. The individuality of each person and their thoughts on the question “what is beauty?”
Thank you for your consideration and I hope you enjoy my piece as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Daniel Wallock | Besant Hill School ’14 | Santa Barbara, CA
Removed at the author’s request. Watch for his book, coming soon!
Jacob Kydd | High Mowing Waldorf School ’15 | Arlington, MA
Beauty is not necessarily perfection. Sometimes an object’s flaws are more beautiful than its flawlessness. The natural perfection of an apple itself is beautiful, but its flaws make it unique and therefore more real and tangible. The question is: why do flaws accentuate beauty. I believe that although absolute perfection can be beautiful in a way, it is never unique. Flaws are what really bring out the individualistic nature of something. A unique object is more beautiful than a perfect replica. A hand-made flower pot is more beautiful than a factory made one even with, and because of, its flaws. In my painting the cracks on the apple demonstrate how flaws can increase something’s beauty by unifying the perfect and imperfect.
The Hidden World of Fluid Dynamics
Josh Wolper | Moravian Academy ’13 | Easton, PA
Science and art are one and the same; they only differ in perspective.
Fluid dynamics surround us everyday, from pouring cream into coffee to navigating the flow of traffic on the way to work. We sometimes find difficulty in appreciating things that we take for granted, such as the fluid flow of blood, working its way through us even now. Yet, the wonder of fluid dynamics does not stop at their incredible importance, they also encompass an incredible beauty. This beauty, when examined, inspires a desire to look closer at the things we see everyday. We miss so much in our lives. We are constantly in motion, hurriedly moving from point A to point B. But this leaves so many gaps in our lives- we miss out on point C, and point F, and even point U. It is important that we appreciate the beauty that surrounds us everyday. This is possible if we all just STOP for a moment…
And take that second glance at the dew on the grass. Or notice the way the wind dances with the leaves in late autumn. Or watch that cream spread and swirl throughout the mug. Or to even watch the orchestrated chaos of traffic and its incredible fluidity.
Everything around us is beautiful, we just have to take the time to see it.
Beauty is the Awe Inspiring Warmth of Sun Touching the Soul
Kinsey Thomas | Sandia High School ’16 | Albuquerque, NM
Beauty follows rules unknown to man, and cannot be defined by the perfect slant of a woman’s nose, or the depth of the cleft in a man’s strong chin. Beauty is the asphyxiating pressure on your chest when looking upon something that raises the serotonin levels in one’s body to immeasurable levels. The truth is beauty cannot be calculated, there are no rules and the guidelines are fuzzy at times. Instead, society has created a face that “is beauty,” dubbing everything else as not worthy of being beautiful. Being beautiful is not a shade of platinum blonde or being able to bench seventy-five percent of your body weight. A sterile but professionally designed house doesn’t make it a beautiful home, just like the perfect curvature of a freshly trimmed juniper is not a true look at nature’s physique.
Beauty is raw and powerful, not brittle like that bones of a little girl starving herself because beauty has been defined by a malnourished model that wears her skeleton outside her skin, with every bone visible. It isn’t the boy consuming unnatural substances so that he can gain muscle mass when he doesn’t even realize what his body so chalked full of hormones will become. Beauty is less of a look and more of a feeling, the awe inspiring warmth of sunlight touching the soul. The sun is vital for life on the planet, and the warmth of its rays can make even the grumpiest of cats bask in life. Beauty is life, and everything in it.
Beauty in Chicago
Mary Malina | Providence St. Mel ’13 | Forest Park, IL
Before I started my submission, I couldn’t find a way to put my perspective of beauty into words. Because of this, I decided to ask the people of my city what they thought of beauty. I asked both strangers and people that I knew. Through this project, I had the opportunity to learn about different opinions of beauty from all types of people. My submission is beautiful because it sends the message that no matter where you’re from, how much money you have, or what your ethnicity is, you are able to see the beauty in others around you as long as you open your heart.
Beauty is Science, Art, History and Nature Combined
Mohammed Ismail | St. Joseph School ’13 | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
We, human beings, have discovered many things, and based on that knowledge we acquired through time, we have given all of them names. We have been naming them from the beginning: technologies, celestial bodies, places, ideas or anything we can all hope to imagine. Our beautiful nature is our ideology the way that we feel and imagine or philosophize. So it is unquestionable that beauty exists, but what does beauty mean? What is beautiful? These are the questions that we seek answers for.
Since the beginning of our formal education, we have been taught to answer questions by demonstration, rather than defining them. Beauty is hard to define, and demonstration leads to defining. Every one might have his own feelings, his own ways to explain almost everything, beauty is one that might be a mystery to most, everyone tries to uncover beauty, but” beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But if you show any one something beautiful, he/she will surely tell you if it is beautiful or not.
I went for a tour to the Fasilades castle, and I took these pictures, when I showed them to other people, the comment I always got was, “what a beautiful picture”, but for me they were just like any other pictures I had taken. These pictures were with my godfather, and once when I needed them most, I had a difficulty in attaining them, because he was not around, I tried to look for other replacements, but there were none. It reminded me of an old saying in Ethiopia which goes like this, “Gold in your hands is just like copper”, which is obviously right. We know the beauty of something when it is not with us or when we have lost it. So when I found it, it was more beautiful than ever for me, because I thought I had lost it, when I needed it most. Is there beauty in losing? No, it was truly beautiful, losing it just showed me what was there, and what I didn’t realize.
Some people say beauty is art, some say science, most argue it is nature, and few, in history. What if there is something that combines all these, something that has all this at its disposal, and shows it proudly and gracefully for those who know where to look, and truly want to see. Then it must be the one, the most beautiful thing known to man, and that I believe I have found. This is the center of the once great empire of Fasilades, situated in Gondar, Ethiopia; this is one of the most prized possessions of our country, this is one of the reasons why Ethiopia is symbolized as a beautiful lady, with her skirt the shape of Ethiopia on the map. Within its walls, are six castles, these castles had been built by generations of emperors that reigned over its empire, it has the history of at least six great kings, including the great king Fasilades himself, who brought peace and prosperity to the time. The architecture and the technologies used in building these castles were very advanced for that era. The engineers used these great technologies to build these wonderful castles they had planned and dreamed for their great kings. They chose the best area, for politics, society and luxury. Science is beautiful. These castles were designed in the most skillful and artistic way to reflect the society of that great age, to last for the coming generations, to remember them by. Art is beautiful. These palaces were created by mankind, but it is nature that perfected it. Most say nature has degraded it with the help of time; it is now in ruins, its greatness is gone, it is just a place to remind us how great we were, but that to me is ignorance. Off course it reminds us of our past, and how power full we were, but it only adds to it its beauty, adds to its historical beauty that already is there, if you can see open mindedly and deeply. History is beauty. It is ruined but is whole, it is modern but ancient, it is artificial but natural, and it is somehow a reflection of physics: to be at the same place at the same time, just like Albert Einstein predicted. Of Biology: To be alive and dead like a virus. Of chemistry: to be in different phases at the same point. To see a stone organized by men, to make a wall to protect them from the enemies of nature and man himself, now gives life to nature, to bear a plant, that is full of life and hope from a stone, that is cold and dead, how ironic, but life is beautiful, nature is beautiful. This Place is Beautiful.
The Shoe-Box Song
Nathaniel Brown | Home School | Potsdam, NY
Beauty is a multi-faceted thing. It is the traditional definition; of beauty in sight or sound. Beauty is also in emotions. The most beautiful thing is, I believe, happiness.
I was recently asked to do an announcement in church for Operation Christmas Child, a program our church participates in. It distributes donated shoeboxes filled with presents to poor children all over the world. For this announcement, I wrote a song.
This is beautiful for three reasons.
1) The cause is beautiful, bringing happiness to poor children.
2) Music is beautiful.
3) Laughter is beautiful. People were audibly laughing in the pews.
U’i i ka hana no’eau (Art is beautiful)
Nikki Ama | James Campbell High School ’13 | Ewa Beach, HI
My drawing shows where I’m from and who I am. The theme is Hawai’i and the aina, which means “land” and how the land shows off the natural beauty and culture of Hawai’i. Self-expression is also a way to show a beauty that many people never see.
The Hula dancer represents the culture of the people who live here. Hula is the traditional dance of the Hawaiian people and every movement tells the story of great battles, inspiring tales of strength and cunning, and the struggles that the Hawaiians have fought and overcome. With Hula comes chants, or oli’s which are the voices of the Hawaiian people and also tell their tales.
Musical instruments like the hollowed out gourd produced beats and rhythm for the oli’s and in their own way tell a story with its deep monotone sound. The Hula dancer’s hair flows into the wave-woman because the people of Hawai’i and the ocean are one and like the Hula dancer, the oceans of Hawai’i tell their story with every crash against the islands rocks.
The rocks, too, are like art. The Ko’olau mountain range looks as if it had been crafted by the hands of a larger being and show off the islands beauty and strength. The canoe represents the craftsmanship of the people and is considered an art form and in the drawing, the stone hands use a canoe to create mountains and ridges.
I formed an “A” with the surf board, fish, and canoe for the word aloha since that is the theme for Hawai’i. The surfboard is also symbolic because people here like to surf since the oceans are beautiful, and that is another type of self expression.
All these illustrations pull together what I see in Hawai’i. All flow with each other and reside with each other, because the people, the culture, the land, and the sea are what makes up Hawai’i, and that is what I call beautiful.
Beauty is…Simply Me
Octavio Duarte, Eric Rivera and Christian Alcaraz | Arroyo Valley High School ’15 | San Bernadino, CA
Beauty can be a single image or drawing that can capture and portray the different cultures, backgrounds, and the life-styles of just one person.
My fellow partner Octavio Duarte, is the artist of the image and the teenager we will be evaluating for this project. Octavio is literally the “man behind the display.” Art has become a very huge influence in his life, and the image that will be shown is a collaboration of his backgrounds, cultures, and his life-styles. We began analyzing his backgrounds and by the looks of it, Octavio is Latin-American with a little amount of a Japanese heritage.
In the final image, the bird is settled and surrounded by Octavio’s culture and background. It is sitting on top of the Japanese cherry blossom and is surrounded by the Mexican sugar skulls. The way the bird is facing is showing symbolism to the way that, Octavio see’s and lives in a life full of a Latin-American culture, since it is looking directly at the skull. The cherry blossom’s pedal that is placed in between the bird and the skull is used as a way of showing that even though he practices more of his Latin-American culture; he is still taking a glimpse and learning more of his Japanese background. The letters above the skulls, bird, and blossom are in the language of the angels, and it is quoted by Ayn Rand, which states “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me…,” Representing Octavio’s spirit of ambition wanting to reach something greater without paying attention to those who want to stop him from doing so.
The different versions of the drawing represent Octavio growing as a person and discovering new facts about himself. The first version includes a similar bird, quote, but the skull on the left, and the tree is different; it’s just roses that symbolize that he felt good as himself and as a person, and he even thought of his life as beautiful as a blooming rose. The skull on the right is of a girl and she is maturing into a different look as well as Octavio maturing and beginning to look different. The second version of the drawing includes the exact same bird, quote, roses except for the same skull on the left. This time the skull on the right has a more matured look and is far more detailed. Also the flower that is in the hair of the skull on the left now has a more detailed view to it. The hair has grown and looks completely different as well.
Finally, the third version of the drawing includes a whole new item; the roses have now become a Japanese cherry blossom. The reason behind this is that as Octavio grew even more and dug up his past information using letters and pictures, he has discovered that he has Asian roots. That’s why the bird now sits on that cherry blossom as it is looking at the skulls and that pedal derived from his Japanese heritage. So in the end as the title states “Beauty is… Simply Me” it doesn’t mean he thinks beauty is his physical appearance, but him, as a person, where he is from and who he is.
Beauty in a Moth
Yasi Zeichner | Vermont Technical College VAST program ’13 | Northfield, VT
This spring, my siblings and I found a large, dried, brown chrysalis. We kept it, wondering what kind of butterfly or moth would hatch out of it, and hoping it would be a novelty of some kind. When the insect began to break through, we gathered round to watch the process. This is a slideshow of the transformation of the moth that emerged; a Polyphemus moth.
I think these photographs show beauty in many ways. There is beauty in the warmth and depth of the colors on the moth’s wings, and beauty in the intricate details of the insect’s whole design, from the eye-spots and stripes on its wings, to the fuzzy hairs on its body, to its little black-tipped feet. The fact that such a magnificent creature can emerge from a dry, drab chrysalis, starting out almost all body and no wings, and in the course of two or three hours, pumping its wings to their full size and then flying away; that is beautiful. Also, beauty is in the way that Nature puts such care and love into every detail of this little insect, despite the fact that the moth will only live for a few days. I think that if we slow down sometimes, and take the time out to watch some of the little things that are happening all around us, we will have the chance to observe some amazing processes, and see beauty at work. I also think there is beauty in taking the time and effort to make little, seemingly insignificant things beautiful, as Nature did with the Polyphemus moth.
One of things I like best about Thanksgiving is that it is one of the few days a year people open their homes to friends, family and yes, near strangers.
I’ve spent Thanksgiving in a lot of different places in the twelve years since I left home for college – at friends’ family gatherings in New York, at a farm school community feast, around a wicker table in Malawi, and trying to cook a full sized turkey in a tiny dorm room oven. In each of these cases, I joined friends of friends of friends, or had similarly loosely connected folks join me. Are there any other days in our calendar when we assume that no one should go cold or hungry or have to spend the day alone? When we are willing to put up with a little awkward conversation in order to ensure that everyone can feel they have something to be thankful about? Could we make a commitment to bring the beauty of this openness, generosity and sharing to other parts of the year?
Yes. And at the same time, I am reminded of how much beauty there is in the communities we hold close. Other bloggers have described a gut-level experience of beauty. For me, that warm glow comes during easy-flowing conversations with old friends, that bone-deep certainty that someone would come through for me in a pinch, collaborating to create a colorful and satisfying meal, and feeling pride in my sisters’ accomplishments.
I wonder how I could “make something beautiful” that expressed this feeling? A photo collage of friends and family? A story about a transformative moment in a relationship? Or can this only be truly expressed in things others make and share with me? A quandary for the long weekend…
Some final questions from resident philosopher, William Edelglass, to help propel you to those brilliant submissions!
My colleague and dear friend, Amer Latif, is a scholar of Sufi poetry, especially the work of Rumi. In a Rumi poem Amer has translated, Rumi questions God, asking where the poet should seek the Divine. And God answers, “Seek me in your beautiful conduct.” What does it mean that our conduct can be beautiful? And what would it mean that in the very beauty of our conduct we can find God?
Taking this a step further, what is the relationship between beauty and the Divine? This summer I gave several talks in Estonia and went to an Estonian Orthodox Church for services on two Sundays. The music and icons and ritual were so beautiful and I felt a deep connection to the Divine. Thomas Aquinas argued that beauty is an attribute of God, and that when we experience beauty we are connecting to God. I have also felt this in the mountains and singing with friends. Is this encounter with beauty, both natural and artistic, an encounter with God?
“What is the Spanish word for snow?” my friend, Catie asked me. I came and sat next to her and the little girl next to her.
Catie smiled, and pointed at the picture of a house covered in feet of powdered snow in her hand. “Nieve, snow.”
The girl’s face lit up with wonder, as her eyes looked at the picture and then turned to look at her own surroundings. Sand, and plywood and cardboard houses, and scrawny dogseverywhere. The air smelled of dirt, sweat, and the chemical plants not far away. “Nieve,” she sighed. “Me gusta.” I like it. And she smiled.
At the age of sixteen, I had never seen such poverty, if poverty even does justice to their stories. Dirt and sand clung to the bottoms of the children’s bare feet, and scraggly dogs ran between their legs and in and out of the ply-board and cardboard houses. The air smelled of urine and nothing green could grow. Yet, these poorest barrios of Lima, showed me a form of beauty that I had never seen before.
Each day, I assumed the role of translator for the children and my friends, and watched the barriers of language fall down. When I came home, it was all I could talk about, the power of language. While we were separated from these children by barriers of culture, of age, of wealth, these began to break down when I helped them communicate with us. It allowed us to enter, however slightly, into their lives. Speaking to the children in Spanish was more than just speech; it was proof that we wanted to interact in their lives. It showed that were cared about them. It built trust. Watching these barriers between us fall down as the children told us what their favorite colors were, who their siblings were, how old they were, was beautiful. In the midst of all this dirt and sand, the friendships we made with these children were pure beauty.
Beauty is light. The warmth of the sun on your back, the patterns thrown on the ground through the leaves on the trees, the moon through a window in the middle of the night. A lava lamp, the lights on a Christmas tree, a single candle flickering against a wall.
Beauty is a lantern and the silhouette of a robber as a train comes rushing toward him.
Beauty is a dying man’s journey through the Elysian Fields.
Beauty is the light in the elevator as con men rob a casino vault.
Beauty is the glow of fairies as they dance around a boy who refuses to grow up.
Beauty is three teenagers with three candles exploring an abandoned mansion.
Beauty is florescent lights, a train, the glow of fairy dust, sunlight, a lantern, a candle. Beauty is light.
Technology is the application of science. Science is beautiful! But in the application of science, its beauty is very often obscured or completely hidden. That can be necessary when the science is dangerous or fragile. Power lines are kept out of reach and engines and computers alike are enclosed within metal and plastic.
It’s not always necessary, though. Sometimes science is hidden within technology so that technology can look or feel or sound like something else – or nothing at all. Think of how new products are smaller, quieter, faster, or smoother than they used to be. Part of why I’ve always liked to take things apart is that it reveals a certain kind of beauty to me.
Do you remember dialing a phone with real push buttons? Or even a mechanical dial? And then someone at the other end started talking? Remember the grinding noises your computer used to make?
Remember the first time you saw windmills lining a ridge?
Remember when we landed a robot on Mars?
Or the first time you felt a plane taking off?
I think those are the sorts of moments where technology reveals its beauty.
When I was in graduate school we were asked to make the most ugly pots we could imagine. I know this is a common assignment, designed to coerce students to reexamine what we value in our work. I worked counter to all my conventions; I made pots using only my left hand, slathering them in slip and covering them with narrative drawings reflecting my broken heart. The resulting pots were uncomfortable and awkward, but not ugly. Did I fail, or was the assignment a success? It is still unclear to me whether I failed by being unable to force myself to make something I considered ugly, or succeeded in broadening my perspective on what constitutes a beautiful pot.
Active engagement in making moves the work like a pendulum between the poles of failure and success, each serving to inform the other. The act of making the most unattractive pots I could imagine sowed the seeds for my subsequent ideas. I now embrace variation in the slip and continue to incorporate elements of the drawings I used on those sloppy, bumpy, wobbly, unkempt jar forms.
If, as they say, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, then makers should make what they see as beautiful. Staying true to our individual sense brings the definition beyond the sunset, rainbow and kittens. Securing for ourselves what we understand as beauty and finding ways to communicate this comprehension creates a richness in dialogue, an opportunity to instruct and the possibility for growth.
In this way, we may satisfy our own creative needs.
As a person who responds primarily to the visual, I see beauty everywhere. That’s easy. It’s the sunlight coming through the spores on a patch of moss.
A painting by Diebenkorn, a photograph by Ansel Adams. A decaying piece of birch bark on the forest floor (I was going to talk about the beauty of decay, but my friend Kevin McCamant beat me to it).
But hearing beauty?—well, that’s easy, too. The opening strains of Mendelsohn’s Octet, the closing chords of “Hey Jude.” The first song of the season from the white-throated sparrow, a chorus of spring peepers, the wail of a faraway train passing in the dark of night.
Smell? Or rather, scent. (Scents are beautiful; smells—not so much.) The first whiff of the ocean as you cross the bridge into Maine, especially if it’s low tide. The waft of her perfume as your mother leans over to give you a good night kiss before going out for the evening. Freshly mown hay on a hot summer afternoon.
Now it gets trickier. Touch. Does a touch feel beautiful, or does it feel tender, soothing, warm, soft? Can touch be beautiful? Do we say, “this feels beautiful?” Is it the caress of a lover, the body sliding into clear cool water, the feel of a dog’s warm head under a crippled elderly hand? Thick warm socks on a cold morning—that’s a beautiful feeling.
Here’s one Josie didn’t ask about in the video: Taste. Do we talk about food as tasting beautiful? Delicious, sweet, comforting—yes beautiful: Macaroni and cheese; good strong coffee thick with cream; a ripe tomato still warm from the sun.
What I end up with is this: I think it is the magic in the perception of things that makes them beautiful. Ice skating alone on a startling pink sunrise, reflected on the surface of a pond. The gentle touch of a dragonfly as it lands on your bare shoulder. The surprising taste of chunky salt in a bar of dark chocolate. It’s the little sensory surprise, the little gasp “oh!” that makes something beautiful.
Now the question is, how do you capture that gasp?
I can find beauty in just about anything. This picture is of rust on an old door on the building across the street from the jail where I work and I find it beautiful.
Beauty is more of a felt thing than a thought thing for me: there can be an element of surprise, a swelling of the heart, a smile and/or tears in the eyes. It catches me, transforming my sense of perspective and scale, pulling me into its dimension.
It can also be ironic, or perhaps even paradoxical, like the rust in the photo, generative in its colorful decay.
Some recent thinkers and artists have argued that beauty is not the support for ethics and justice that earlier thinkers had imagined. Instead, they have argued, the valorization of beauty is an expression of privilege: only people who have all their basic needs met could really care about beauty. Moreover, attention to beauty lifts us out of the ethical demands of a world in which there is suffering. Instead of contemplating beautiful scenery or works of art, we need to respond to that suffering, it is argued. And if we do make works of art, they should not reflect the tastes of the privileged but should disturb them, to draw our attention to social and political truths which are obscured by the devotion to beauty. What is the relationship between beauty—say, for example, the beauty of a painting by Mark Rothko — and morality, justice, and politics? Ought we to be skeptical of beauty and strive to escaped the “cult of beauty”?
What I mean is that beauty is so wrapped up in aesthetics, which are so subjective and yet socially inscribed, that I don’t believe anything is purely, ultimately, innately beautiful. I fear that we limit ourselves in our thoughts of what could possibly be beautiful – day to day, we enter into routine and forget to really see, hear, touch, feel…
Therefore, I think we should question why we think something is beautiful to see what it implies about what we don’t think is beautiful. It’s easy to see where I’m going with this – I often wonder why I turn heads (and apparently invite comments on my “beautiful” appearance) when I strap on a pair of heels, as opposed to when I go to the corner store in my sweatpants. I wonder, doesn’t ugliness have its own beauty, and maybe beauty its own ugliness? This is why I attempt to disregard beauty all together.
When I think about this question in relation to my own experience, I often think about people’s labeling of themselves as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ dancers. As a dancer and dance-maker, I run into so many people who, upon hearing what I do, comment on their inability to dance. Do they not believe they are beautiful dancers? To me, the awkward stumblings of these pedestrians are more innovative and inspiring than the calculated precision of a ballerina. The way I see it, what qualifies as beauty – or ability to create a “beautiful” dance – is the motivation behind the person performing a dance, their own joy in movement. I see the uninhibited commitment to movement (whether that movement could be see as beautiful or ugly) as beautiful. And there, I’ve admitted my own surrender to beauty.
Maybe it’s arbitrary to do so, but I don’t want to call it beauty. Beauty implies form, implies an image – just as the word “movement” implies a particular shape. Why can’t we define a particular “beauty” or “movement” by intent or by how it arose. I want beauty, like movement, to be a process, not a hard image which bodies try to recreate.
In lieu of flushing all these snip-its of ideas out, I pose to you this video as a site of investigation:
Between individual feelings of pleasure in the beautiful and objective properties of the beautiful object, there is also the question of the cultural contexts in which we cultivate our tastes. The first time I saw Tibetan opera it was culturally interesting but not particularly beautiful. But after several years of living with Tibetans in northern India, regularly hearing Tibetan music, and seeing many hours of traditional opera, I did find it both entertaining and more and more moving and beautiful. Does one have to enter into another culture to appreciate its aesthetic productions and find them beautiful? Do some manifestations of beauty just take more time to appreciate than others? What is the relationship between beauty and cultural contexts?