Professor Jonathan Gitelson has played many roles in his life such as being an artist, a teacher, a student and a curator, to name a few.
This fall, Gitelson will add chair of Keene State College’s art and design program to that list. Previously the Art and Design Coordinator, Gitelson will be replacing current department chair Yuan Pan.
Despite his lifelong love of art, Gitelson did not begin consistently creating art until he took a photography class in college. While he has many mediums, photography has always been his favorite, he said.
“It was the first medium where I felt like I could make what I wanted to make,” Gitelson said.
He went on to receive his BA in literature and photography from Vermont’s Marlboro College and later received his MFA in photography from Chicago’s Columbia College.
After completing his undergraduate degree, Gitelson worked odd jobs at night while working on his photography during daylight hours and spent some time living in Guatemala City helping a professor’s friend teach photography. He even went so far as to make his own dark room where he was living, a task he has helped some of his students replicate.
“It’s something I encourage students to do at Keene State… I’ve seen students over the last 10 or 11 years fall in love with that dark room experience. It’s something physical, not in front of a computer, which is really nice these days [with so many things computerized],” Gitelson said. “It’s not as hard as you might think,” he added with a smile.
According to Gitelson, photography is paradoxically easy and difficult at the same time. While it’s easy to point and shoot, something he points out we’re surrounded by daily, getting the photo to look the way you want brings new challenges.
“Technically, it’s very hard to get things to look the way you want them to look. Composition, lighting, all that kind of stuff, but also printing, and exposure, and the actual creation of a photograph, I find to be really hard,” Gitelson said.
“Everybody makes them, and everybody posts them. So how do you create something that’s unique in the environment? That’s the challenge,” he said.
While photography is Gitelson’s favorite medium, he has done work in several other mediums. His installation art piece, “Marginalia,” has been featured in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. “Marginalia” features nearly 2,000 books, all found by Gitelson. Each book was written in or otherwise marked by its previous owner. A few had even been hollowed out to hide small objects. Guests to the museum were encouraged to flip through the books and leave a bookmark for other guests to check out their favorite parts, he said.
“A lot of what art is, is your interaction with the public,” Gitelson said. “Being able to share the work is just as important as making it,” he added.
Gitelson said he loves teaching about art. He said he loves being able to share new things with students, and said he considers himself very lucky to be able to do this as his job.
“Being able to show things that I’m excited about that [my students] don’t know, and getting them excited is something I love,” Gitelson said.
Grace Robitaille, an advisee of Gitelson’s since last year, has seen that love for sharing and discussing art firsthand. Robiatille, a design major in her second year at KSC, admires his passion as an educator.
“I admire how happy he gets when students actually contact him with stuff they want to do with their major… He gets excited that someone is reaching out to him,” she said.
As Gitelson prepares to take his seat as department chair, he said he has a “hugely transitional period” to work with. Not only will he be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling in general, he said he feels the department itself has gone through a lot of change. While the art and design department’s staff has shrunk in past years, to about half of what it was when Gitelson arrived, Gitelson said he is happy to have his colleagues by his side.
“I feel very lucky in that I have a really great group of colleagues in the art department. I trust them all, and respect them all. What I hope to do is be able to help with the leadership as we go through this next transition,” Gitelson said.
With the staff changes of the past few years and the life changes of 2020, Gitelson said it’s time to rethink how students navigate the program. Randall Hoyt, another Keene State professor and the next design coordinator, will be helping him navigate those challenges. The chair and coordinator positions always come from opposite ends of the department; if the chair is from studio art like Gitelson, the coordinator will come from design. The coordinator helps the chair run the department, sharing their expertise.
“I find he brings a wealth of expertise, energy and humor to everything,” Hoyt said of Gitelson. “I’m looking forward to making the program stronger and doing some very important work, rethinking art and design and taking it to the place it needs to be,” Hoyt added.
Listen to The Chirp podcast episode eight, featuring artist and professor Jonathan Gitelson.
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