by Sanjana Deshpande, Features Reporter & Ella Moses, Features Contributor
photo illustration by Kaila Hanna
For new art teacher Paul Belenky, art has always provided a platform to highlight absurdity.
“When I was growing up, I felt like I could never really express myself adequately and be accepted for the weird things I wanted to express,” he said. “If I drew them and called it art, then it became acceptable.”
This year, Belenky teaches mixed media and sculpture classes. His love for art has always gone along with his passion for science, he said.
“It’s just a constant process of a scientific method of, ‘Is this going to work? Let’s try it. Okay, this didn’t work, let’s revise and try again,’” he said.
English teacher David Weintraub — also Belenky’s former teacher — said he believes that Belenky’s light-hearted demeanor has been responsible for his successful artistic career.
“He was vibrantly intelligent. He knew what he cared about, and I can’t always say that for every student. He definitely brought a sense of humor to class, along with his very unique intelligence, passion and no-nonsense attitude,” Weintraub said. “He always had a really mature sense of understanding and analyzing art — to know that he turned that mindset towards creating and producing is really amazing.”
Chemistry teacher Marianne McChesney, who also taught Belenky, said that Belenky was profoundly creative as a high-schooler.
“His best skill was being able to think out of the box and look at things creatively,” McChesney said. “It was very helpful in class, just to have that curious mind and open-mindedness to explore ideas and different ways of expressing your thoughts and ideas.”
Belenky initially pursued biology at Brandeis University but later switched career paths after getting a Masters in Fine Art at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
“When I was at South, I was taking all kinds of high-level science and math classes because I thought that would be my career going forward,” he said. “When I got to college, I also continued down that path. It was only when I started working in a lab, and I was like, ‘No way I can’t do this for the rest of my life.’”
Belenky said that though he did not specifically seek out working at his alma mater, he is excited to be back.
Ceramics teacher Amy Nichols said Belenky has integrated smoothly into the fine arts department.
“We know how to collaborate and work with different materials and come up with really fun ideas for students to work on,” Nichols said. “His personality works with the group, and we feel like a family.”
Belenky is enjoying teaching virtually and is appreciative of his students’ commitment.
“I’m really grateful to my students that I can talk into a rectangle on the computer screen and somewhere else, miles away, a sculpture is happening, he said.
Ceramics teacher Molly Baring-Gould said that Belenky is an indispensable part of the department.
“It was very clear from a few minutes in that he would be a perfect fit in our department,” she said. “He’s super creative, incredibly smart, a gifted sculptor and enthusiastic.”