**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.