TEDxRyersonU sneak peek: What does art mean to you?

Since 2010, Ryerson has hosted an annual TEDx conference to spark conversation and ideas amongst its most creative and innovative students. The theme for this year’s conference is “Iconoclast,” which embodies the idea of challenging conventional beliefs and pushing the boundaries of societal paradigms. Ryerson Folio spoke with two of this year’s speakers, both of whom are Ryerson graduates and focus on the arts as an educational platform.

Adrian Bica, 26, is a masters of architecture student who has taught courses at George Brown and Sheridan College. He has done extensive research on the way architecture has advanced and changed throughout history. Betty Chen is a 25-year-old interior design graduate. She is a tour guide at the Art Gallery of Ontario and hosts a web series called “ARTiculations” where she discusses visual and fine arts in a humorous and relatable way. Their TEDx talks aim to inform the audience of problems faced in their fields, as well as encourage this generation of young go-getters to be more active in artistic processes.

Adrian Bica, 26, Ryerson master’s of architecture student


Photo by Leyla Godfrey

Why did you decide to be a speaker for Ryerson TEDx?

While I was doing research on my thesis … I started looking into all sorts of topics and I was noticing a few different trends in architectural movements that are happening and have happened in the past. It’s kind of interesting that as a student of architecture who’s been studying for about six or seven years now, I’ve never really been educated about those [movements], so I was thinking it would be kind of interesting if I could somehow organize this in a way in which I could actually present a talk. Then, when I got an email inviting me to apply as a TEDx speaker I figured, “Why don’t I just try it out? I’ve already written an abstract for this, I know the topic very well, why don’t I send in an application?” It was well received and here I am.

Can we have a sneak peek of what your presentation is going to be about?

I cover two main things in my presentation. One, is the loss of intimacy in architecture. I guess, to give you an example, if you think back, I don’t know, a couple hundred years, buildings were more than just boxes for certain programs. They were people’s understanding of spirituality and even religion and how the cosmos worked. So if you think of the Parthenon, for instance, it’s such a wonderful building and it’s in all of the architectural textbooks because it has such a sense of powerfulness when you go into that building. Just the way in which it’s created and the values behind that building were very spiritual and emotional to people. So the first part of my talk is tracing a few movements that led to the loss of this type of affection in architecture. I cover a few things, like that architecture has been turned into a service industry, and that architecture has been affected by the shifting urban culture, and last is how scientific thinking rejected any intangible things that couldn’t be quantified. It became really hard to talk about how a building affects someone emotionally when all of our thinking was primarily scientific and that’s really hard to quantify. So, those were the three things that kind of rejected the interpretive and intangible sides of architecture. And then I talk about a few strategies.

How does your presentation incorporate the theme of Iconoclast?

A lot of people think that the world of design and architecture rests solely on the designers and the architects that are in charge of creating that design. Because of that, the general public is not so invested in figuring out what their role is within the design of architecture. The truth is that … the public actually has such a vast influence on the approval processes and all sorts of other stages that transform architecture into what it is today. What my talk challenges is it asks people to consider themselves as part of the designers team at all points in the process, even when they’re in that room at that very moment. Although nothing is happening and I’m just there talking, the truth is that maybe the next day we’ll all have a chance to influence architecture in some way, whether we realize it or not.

What was your creative process for planning your presentation?

This is the type of historical information that could potentially be a fairly boring architectural lecture. So, once I knew that that was something it could turn into I figured, “How can I make this talk something that’s really powerful and engaging to the audience so that this doesn’t seem like another lecture that people have to go to, but something that’s presented in a way in which is very relatable?” I’m trying to talk about each of these things in a metaphorical way … so that we can better relate to these issues that happened so long ago.

How do you use arts as an educational tool?

Well, I guess if art is about the expression of a message, depending on what that message is and depending on the medium of that artistic gesture, you can potentially truly engage someone. I think depending on what it is that you’re trying to do and how you’re doing it, an artistic process can definitely influence how impactful what you’re trying to say is.

Betty Chen, 25, Ryerson interior design graduate


Photo by Ankit Singh

Why did you decide to be a speaker for TEDx?

Mostly because I’ve been speaking about art and the importance of learning about visual and fine arts for a long time, and this is just another opportunity to speak a lot about it. I’ve been a gallery guide at the Art Gallery of Ontario for three and a half years, and I’ve also been running this art web series for the last two years. It’s really just about connecting the public and people who are not necessarily in the art field with the visual arts field, giving people better experiences in museums and providing them with more access and participation with visual arts. One of the biggest issues that I’ve come across is that young people, or specifically people under 30, are really not interested in going to museums. This is just statistically the case. I’ve been doing things to try and find out why this is the case and how it can be improved.

Can we have a sneak peek of what your presentation is going to be about?

A part of my presentation is I’m going to be talking about the different parts of art, especially contemporary art, that people find confusing. It’s totally OK for people to ask questions like, “Why does this matter?” The point of this conversation and contemporary art is to look at these objects or artworks you see. On the surface it might be like, “This is some random box on the floor,” but for so many of these [pieces] there are a lot of interesting stories behind them. For part of the talk I’m going to be telling those stories about something that you think is mundane or boring, but it’s actually super interesting.

How does your presentation incorporate the theme of Iconoclast?

One of the things I’m going to be addressing is …  the different ways that people are engaging with art and the different ways that the visual arts are a part of everybody’s lives. For instance, I’m going to be talking about non-traditional or non-conventional types of artworks. I’m specifically going to be talking about things like when a huge community comes together to make an art project, like thousands of people, or a work of art that is created on the Internet by people on Twitter or Instagram. These are artworks that are not possible in another time in history, so it’s really quickly reshaping the visual arts world. It’s really important for people to realize that this is another tool and this is another thing for young people to realize they can participate in.

What was the creative process for planning your presentation?

I normally do an hour-long tour at the AGO where I’m a gallery guide, so every once in a while, I have to write a tour that’s going to be presented to the public. So I usually do a lot of research. Some of those tours are based on a theme, like contemporary art, European art, or whatever. So I kind of approached it in the same way, except for the fact that instead of it being an hour long, this has to be 18 minutes. I really had to cut down the content, but this was a really natural thing for me to do because I’m used to making presentations to a group of people. The way I want to do it is to take the audience on an art tour through contemporary art in a similar way that I do at the gallery.

How do you use art as an educational tool?

The way I see art, especially visual and fine arts, is that in one way it can be a traditional field where you can study it objectively and study its history, study the technical components; but in another way it provides a non-linear form of thinking. Looking at a painting can teach you things like critical thinking skills, interpretation skills, and visual perception skills. We even have a program at the AGO called “Visual Thinking Strategies,” and this is actually something that we actively do with students as well as adults in helping them develop better visual interpretation skills. Instead of telling them what a painting is about, we let them interpret. When it comes to studying art, you yourself have to go and find the information. You have to learn how to obtain the information on your own so that it’s not just handed to you.

Interviews have been edited for clarity.