AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E10 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 610

Photography and complexity science collide, back to school lessons from an art teacher, and a performance from the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.

AIRED: August 26, 2020 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(dramatic electronic tones)

(relaxed ensemble music)

- [Lara's Voiceover] Photography and chaos theory collide.

Back to school lessons from an art teacher

and a performance from the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.

It's all ahead on this episode of "AHA!"

- [Announcer] Funding for "AHA!"

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, We understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat ensemble electronic music)

(soft piano music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad and this is "AHA!,"

a House for Arts, a place for all things creative.

David Ricci stumbled into photography after

completing his degree in biomedical engineering at RPI.

His photographs capture the beauty between order and chaos.

Let's talk with David in Lee, Massachusetts to learn more.

- I have a quotation up on the board in my studio

by the photographer Stephen Shore that I'm gonna paraphrase.

He says essentially that seeing something

spectacular or beautiful

and recognizing a photographic possibility there

is not a very big leap but what he is interested in

and what I am interested in is finding the ordinary

and realizing the photographic possibility in that.

I grew up here in the Berkshires.

I grew up in Pittsfield and after that,

I went to school in Troy at RPI.

I went there for undergraduate and graduate work as well.

I got degrees there in biomedical engineering

and in my last year there at RPI,

right before I got my Masters,

there was an exhibition

by the RPI Photo Club

and I went to that exhibition

and walked around and looked at all the pictures

and I don't recall any particular images

that struck me but I just thought that

this photography thing looks pretty cool.

So after that, I worked as an engineer

for two years and about a year into it,

I had saved enough money to buy my first

Nikon 35 millimeter camera and then the bug bit

and after that, I just sort of changed careers

and went into photography.

I started photographing in a way that the compositions

were much more complex as I started adding in visual

elements and trying to merge content and form

by making a very complex composition.

One of the early pieces is a photograph of

a basketball court with an amusement park in the background

and it was then that I started being very concerned about

finding visual motifs and finding shapes, colors,

lines, forms that repeat throughout the frame

and very often using things that are near and far.

So in that photograph, it's very easy to see the motifs,

the main one being the big circle on the basketball court

and then the circle within a circle

with the Ferris wheel way in the background.

But those progressed all the way up until I think

the pinnacle of the complexity was a piece

called "Trimper's Rides" that has just layers

and layers of information and I'm shooting

through a Ferris wheel ride through other structures

behind that and through other structures behind that.

I started reading up on complexity science and chaos theory.

So I never really lost my interest

in science subjects that I had developed at RPI

and in general what complexity theory

is about in layman's terms is that when you have any type

of system and you keep adding more and more elements to it,

you can have an order and you can add a few more things

and you have order, at some point, it falls into chaos

but at some range between order and disorder,

there's something called the edge of chaos

and in the edge of chaos, you have something

that emerges that is not just greater than the sum

of the parts but is an entirely new entity.

So as I was reading about that stuff,

I was thinking about my photographs and thought

that's sort of what I'm trying to do and so the edge

of chaos became a metaphor for the work that I was doing.

Most recently I've been shooting at antique fairs.

I'm having a lot of fun with that

but I'm going down a lots of different paths now

and finding lots of different things.

Some of the images that I've produced

have references to religion, to race,

to gender identity

and they're just coming out of these

collections of objects that people have in their booths

and then some of them are just kind of overwhelming,

information overload of kitsch, if you will.

It's been incredibly rewarding to to know that

you're making something that impacts another human being.

Somebody looks at it and they get some type

of joy out of it or they look at the world

in a way they hadn't looked at it before

and that's really what it's all about in the end.

- It's back to school once again

but this time things are a little different.

Lisa David is an art teacher

at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, New York.

How are teachers and their students

embracing the new digital format to learn art?

Let's find out.

Lisa, it's great to have you on "AHA!", welcome to the show.

- Thank you for having me, Lara. I appreciate it.

- It's a pleasure.

So Lisa, tell me about where

you teach and tell me about what you teach.

- So I teach at Shenendehowa High School East

and I teach Drawing and Painting Advanced,

it's a second year drawing and painting course

and I teach a studio requirement course at Shenendehowa.

The students have three options, one is a digital studio,

then there's traditional studio and there's crafts.

I teach a craft class.

So it's teaching the basic foundation

of studio art but it's through handmade objects.

- Handmade objects. - Yes.

- In a digital age, that's a particularly interesting

and important thing and I think we should come back to that.

But I was actually curious to know, Lisa,

when did you know that you wanted to become an artist

and what do you create outside of time in the classroom?

- Well, I was a student at Shenendehowa

where I teach and I had a fifth grade teacher

and I'm so honored that I get to say his name.

His name was Mr. Harvey and he was by far

the biggest influence in my life in education

and in art because

he just instilled in his students creativity.

Going into a junk drawer and finding

something to write with that's not a pen

or he would just make things from nothing.

We would bring in fabric and buttons and anything,

old socks and make puppets and I just never forgot

what an impact he had in our classroom.

So years later, I had gone to school for art

after I left Shen and I actually was a potter.

I majored in pottery and photography

and was a studio potter and production potter.

Hurt my back, had to have back surgery

and decided to become a teacher.

So this was late, later in my life.

I think I started when I was 40.

So I taught at Schenectady and you can do

some math for about 10 years, (laughing)

and now I've been at Shenendehowa.

So at Schenectady, I taught elementary

and it was so great to sort of bring that energy

that Mr. Harvey instilled in me to the little guys.

That was wonderful.

But while I was at Schenectady,

I started to do oil painting

and some of the work you see behind me.

So,

I exhibit locally,

I teach actually at the Art Center in Saratoga

and obviously I teach my students at Shenendehowa but

I still try to have that passion and that excitement,

that "AHA!" for my students, so that's my story.

- With the COVID-19 pandemic,

it's really had a huge impact on teachers and educators.

Are you teaching online this year?

What kinds of particular challenges

do both you and your students face this year?

- Yeah,

from when school,

last March when we were let out,

at first we thought it was about a two week,

we though oh, two, at first we thought it was a weekend,

a day and then it became two weeks and then

it kept getting extended and extended and as we saw

the extensions get longer, everybody just got a little,

well actually I shouldn't say that.

I as a teacher got more vested in what was happening.

The students were either,

either they were gonna get into it

and they were gonna get excited

and sorta hop on the online wagon.

But for some, it was just overwhelming.

It was too much and some of them just felt a sense of

at this point, I'm so far behind, how can I catch up?

I don't even know where to begin.

So what worked in their benefit was the grading,

how we were able to grade.

Just sort of at Shen,

we had

two grades basically

where you could have learned, showed evidence

that you learned or you hadn't learned yet.

So there was always an open window

for the student to just come back and try to learn

and there were students that would

come back and complete assignments.

I actually had somebody email me in maybe July to try

to finish something and at that point I was like oh,

I'm not sure what's gonna happen at this point.

But I did like that, so I think going forward in the fall,

I do believe that they're gonna have

a similar grading but a little bit more

accountability on the student's part.

- And it sounds like there was just a lot

of uncertainty and even some of those logistical

things like grading can be a big challenge.

But I'm kind of wondering too, on a bigger level,

what kinds of strengths does art teaching

and art learning in particular bring to a moment like this?

Like for instance, what can high schoolers and what

can young Americans in general get from learning art

and practicing art that maybe they can't get from other

kinds of subjects in school like science or math or English?

- Yeah, well I can tell you

I did have students that would join my Google Meet,

you know, like a Zoom and they would say

"Your class is the only one I want to do.

I look forward to doing this. It's so relaxing.

I get to use my hands" or whatever

instead of just being on the screen.

So a lot of the assignments that I would give them,

they did not use their computers.

They would have to go out.

So for example, I showed them some images

by some WPA photographers like Dorothea Lange

who documented tough times and their job was to go out

and do a photojournalism story

about COVID and their interpretation

and their experience with it

and so it gave them sort of purpose,

what to do with their time when they weren't being

academic or just trying to solve a problem.

So art becomes like a lifelong,

I mean I'm a great example of it.

Like literally when I'm not cleaning my house or making

food or whatever, I'm painting or I'm being inspired.

I'm looking for ideas. I journal, I sketch a lot.

I have the kids do the same thing.

So a lot of the assignments that art teachers do

have nothing to do with typing on

the computer or looking at a screen.

We'll have them go create something

and then upload so that we can share it.

So we'll do, the kids went around their house

and had to create a color wheel with items in their house,

which was really fun to see

and then we all go through a visual virtual critique.

There's some really, there's things

that we can do that I would never have done.

I would never have done that if we were in the classroom.

I would never have thought like go home

and root through your house or even the photojournalism,

it just came right at the right time.

That whole lesson, just the timing of it was perfect

with everything that was happening in the world.

There was so much for the kids

to express through photography.

- It sounds like you really took this sudden shift

to moving online because of the pandemic,

it looks like you took it as an opportunity to embrace new

methods of learning a new methods of engaging with the world

which is fantastic and all your classes sound great.

I'd love to take them.

Such a great time talking to you best of luck

starting off this semester. - Thank you.

Fingers crossed. All right Lara, thank you.

- Please welcome the Ellen Sinopoli

Dance Company in a performance of "Filament."

This dance explores all the aspects of a filament

from the tightly wound in electric

to threads that are loose and flutter in the breeze.

(light mid tempo drumbeat)

(warbling electronic music)

(light mid tempo drumbeat)

(rhythmic rattling)

(up tempo drumbeat)

(rhythmic warbling electronic music)

(anxious horns blaring)

(rhythmic warbling electronic music)

(anxious horns blaring)

(soft buzzing)

(light ensemble up tempo drumbeat)

(soft chiming)

(rhythmic rattling)

(rhythmic mid tempo drumbeat)

(frantic light ensemble music)

(metallic rattling)

(rhythmic rattling)

(rhythmic mid tempo drumbeat)

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts, visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad, thanks for watching.

(relaxed ensemble music)

- [Announcer] Funding for "AHA!"

has been providing by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

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