This is the ninth in a series of Garfield Log stories that feature students and professors who share the type of connections that define the ideal college, just as famous Hiram alumnus President James A. Garfield intended. Today on the Garfield Log, Sara Sabarese-Carter, a senior majoring in studio art and minoring in philosophy, joins her favorite professor, Christopher Ryan, M.F.A., an associate professor of art here at Hiram College.
Sara, there are a lot of great professors at Hiram, what made you choose Professor Christopher Ryan?
Chris has enriched my experience at Hiram by teaching me to not limit myself, to be more open to different perspectives, experiences and ways of life … Chris has offered me ways of conceptually thinking about my work and the work of others. I have learned from him to interpret the world around me by active engagement in interpreting other artists’ work and that expressing yourself is a continuous and worthwhile effort as a student and an artist … He has shown me that addressing issues is challenging, but the continuous effort to improve as a conceptual thinker is worth it because the more informed and diverse I am, the more I will be able to contribute to what I do after I graduate.
Professor Ryan, when did you know you wanted to be a professor?
Probably pretty early on – both of my parents were college professors. As a kid, I thought what they did was pretty cool. However, it was as a faculty member an art school that I knew for sure that I wanted to be at a liberal arts college. There were many wonderful things associated with teaching at an art school, but it struck me as somehow narrow or restrictive. My interests are more at home in a place where one can interact with disciplines across the arts, humanities and sciences. I value this kind of community that values interdisciplinary dialogue, critical thinking, and creativity. A dynamic community like this can be incredibly enriching: one where teaching is a great opportunity to keep learning, and where the efforts, achievements and insights of students can inspire professors.
Sara, how was studying abroad in Italy beneficial to you?
The study abroad trip to Italy enriched my experience as a student at Hiram and as an artist. As a student, I was able to apply the knowledge I’ve gained to my time in Italy. I’m able to apply my experiences in Italy in class and outside of class in my everyday life. One of the ways the trip was especially beneficial to me was that I had studied with and learned from my classmates who graduated last spring. Another way that studying in Italy was beneficial to me [was through] the experiences I’ve gained has influenced and helped develop my work in senior studio in preparation for the senior show. The architecture of the cathedrals and the history of the spaces that I experienced in Italy has had an influence in my work. In my senior studio class this spring, my experiences that I had in Italy are helping me to make sense of the current circumstances, spaces, and new situations I find myself in. My experiences in Italy have enriched my experience by encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and explore new spaces in an engaged way as an artist and as a person. I’m continuing to develop my ability to communicate and give voice to the journey I’ve been on.
Professor Ryan, how was studying abroad in Italy beneficial to Sara?
As an open-minded, inquisitive and reflective student, Sara was ready to make the most of experiencing a new culture – especially one with such a rich artistic past. She was able to experience world-famous paintings, sculptures, and architecture, but also to consider ways to respond to these as a contemporary artist. Sara’s work in Senior Studio now is integrating imagery and ideas that she encountered in Italy with imagery and experiences from her life back home. This is the kind of synthesis that one hopes will come out of a study abroad experience.
Sara, what most excites you as an artist?
The studio process and being surrounded by other artists are two of the most exciting aspects to me as an artist. What makes the studio process exciting is that it’s not methodical. There can be unexpected developments which can lead not only to an interesting discovery of technique, but of self-discovery. The studio process of working on a piece has allowed me to be reflective of what I’ve experienced and has been immensely insightful. The other exciting aspect is being around other artists. I find it exciting to have discussions about current work with other artists and what has inspired and influenced us. I’ve enjoyed the experience of going to gallery showings and talking with other artists with diverse backgrounds and experiences which has enriched my studio process. Also, visiting art museums and viewing pieces of art and discussing the work with others excites me because of the relevance that art has in everyday life.
Professor Ryan, what do you think it takes to become a successful artist?
I think it takes passion, perseverance and conviction. An artist needs to care deeply about ideas and issues, but real achievement comes from perseverance – being willing to keep exploring, revising, experimenting over time. One sign of an artist is that you create because you need to, not just when it’s convenient. This effort stems from the conviction that you have something authentic and meaningful to offer others. These qualities can contribute to completing a great painting, but also more broadly to establishing a fulfilling career and rewarding life with art and creativity put to positive ends.
Sara, what makes Professor Christopher Ryan stand out as a mentor?
Chris is still teaching even when he is outside of class. He grapples with issues right along with us and gives us a different, insightful and experienced perspective. His example has shown me to not limit myself in my time, but to use my time in a fulfilling way by being engaged and thoughtful. He pays attention to the struggles and growth of a student. He respects students’ time and effort. Chris engages students with his sense of humor and encourages us to respond to issues in our own artistic style. When I’ve communicated my vision of a project to him, he tries his best to set me up for success. He responds by not giving me a strict framework to follow, but by trying to understand and visualize my own unique vision. He gives me the tools to best communicate my vision by exposing me to art history, a variety of mediums of art, and methods. Chris has also taught me to adapt and appreciate a culture other than my own.
Professor Ryan, what qualities characterize Sara as an art student?
I think two of Sara’s many strengths are her thoughtfulness and her openness. Sara’s patient observation skills and reflective thinking enable her to see alternative possibilities and to try new ideas as she works her way to the best artistic solution. Sara is also a great listener, and is eager to discuss her artwork. She realizes that creative discoveries are often more of an evolutionary or dialectical process than a sudden revelation.
Professor Ryan, what motivates you/inspires you as an artist? or as an art professor?
It’s incredibly rewarding to complete a work of art, to put something new into the world, especially if you’ve invested a great deal of effort to realize it. But perhaps even more exhilarating is starting a new work. The prospect of making something new and amazing is invariably optimistic. When you come up with a new idea or start a new piece, all things are possible, and that’s exciting.
It’s the same as a professor: You feel gratification and fulfillment at the end of a semester when you see how students have progressed, or when seniors present their final achievements in the Senior Show. But there’s always that renewed thrill at the start of a new term when anything is possible again.