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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Senior artist draws on painting inspiration from diverse academic interests

Published: February 8, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

As the current seniors begin their last semester at Brandeis, the studio art majors are now working on their senior theses. Aliza Sternstein ’13 is a studio art major with a focus on painting and a minor in economics from Long Island, N.Y.

Sternstein said she has “always been interested in art, though I am wary of saying it like this.” She does not believe in the idea that a person can be born a painter. Her background in painting started one day at a camp for the performing arts program she attended beginning in third grade.

“It was a really serious camp, you chose a major and a minor and spent two hours a day on the major and one hour on the minor,” Sternstein said. “I always minored in painting and I really loved it. Then, eventually, I majored in it. I went there for seven years and that is where I developed a passion.”

Her experience in art throughout middle and high school was less positive, because art was non-existent, so the summer program “was always something special I did over the summer.”  Sternstein had never considered majoring in art, but her arrival at Brandeis changed that.  “I never considered being an art major, but I signed up for painting because I was so excited to be able to take a painting class that was part of school and not a side thing,” she said. Her time in the studio came at a time that she found rewarding.

“I felt like I could just escape from everything around me. Doing my art homework didn’t feel like homework, while doing my chemistry homework was a means to an end,” she said.

Sternstein entered Brandeis expecting to follow the pre-medical track, but painting became a constant in her life.

“I think the turning point in my life was when I went to a summer painting residency in upstate New York in the middle of nowhere after my sophomore year. All I wanted to do was be accepted, but then once I was, I remember looking at the website and reading: students wake up in the morning and paint, go to lunch where they talk about painting, then go back and paint, then have dinner and paint some more and then repeat the whole thing again,” she said.

“All of a sudden I got really worried. I didn’t know if I would be able to handle all art all the time.”

Sternstein, however, was able to adjust. “I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point toward the summer I became the girl who skipped lunch and barely made it to dinner because I was too busy painting.” She declared a painting major in her first year and then added an economics major in her sophomore year.  The combination made sense to her, as she explained, “Economics is a lot of puzzle solving and that is how I view making a painting.”

Recently, she dropped her economics major. “My education doesn’t have to end in college,” she said. “I purposefully chose not to apply to an art school for undergrad because I wanted the diversity of a liberal arts university. I really firmly believe that it is impossible to make art in a vacuum. As an artist, you have to exist in the world and be fed by the world. I have been incredibly inspired by most of my classes I took here.” She mentioned that she still draws inspiration for her paintings from the class Jewish Liturgy taught by Professor Kimelman (NEJS).

Her involvement on campus is minimal because she does not have much time, but she works during the week and Sundays at a Hebrew School in Newton, spending her spare time in the studio.

“I’m always inspired by light and windows and reflections but I thought it was cliché. I thought landscapes were too plain,” Sternstein said about her senior thesis. She believes that she has combined what she has learned in her non-art classes with her paintings. “In the Kimelman class we were learning about all the Jewish prayers. The Rabbis had so many blessings for everything. For them, the ordinary and banal is a manifestation of holiness. That really gave me some perspective,” she said.

Sternstein was particularly moved by an Albert Camus quotation, reading, “If a cloud covers up the sun and then lets it through again, the bright yellow of the vase of mimosa leaps out of the shade. The birth of this single flash of brightness is enough to fill me with a confused and whirling joy.” She likes to think that her paintings respond to that sensibility. At the moment, she is moved by lines and the appearance of repeating lines.

She is unsure of what her paintings will look like at the end of the semester, but she does know how she feels about painting.

“Painting for me is about honesty and virtue. Painting is about love. It is something that comes completely from my heart. If I’m angry, sad, happy, frustrated, lonely, it can’t be hidden,” she said.