Michael Prettyman: Religion / Writing

Michael Prettyman, Religion / WritingMichael Prettyman

Religion / Writing
B.A., September 2012
Home College: Hunter
Mentors: Profs. Roni Natov, English, Brooklyn and  Prof. Barbara Sproul, Religion, Hunter
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow
CUNY Regents Research Fellowship
CUNY BA International Foundation for Study Abroad Scholarship
Bertha and Phillip Goodman Short Story Award
Tessie K. Sharps Nonfiction Prize
Professor Barbara Sproul Award
Dean’s Certificate for Academic Excellence
Dean’s List

Artist Michael Prettyman came to CUNY BA as an adult returning student with a wealth of experience: Project Manager at Silverhill Atelier, Exhibit Specialist at the Bronx Zoo, Director of the Central Florida Greenpeace Office, Director of Continuing Education at The New York Academy of Art Graduate School. He also worked as a painter for twenty years, with a number of important commissions – he has painted murals in New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany, has had gallery shows in NYC, Hong Kong and Barcelona and has exhibited paintings, drawings and sculptures at the Tsvetaeva Museum of Art in Moscow and the National Museum of Art in Almaty, Khazakhstan; he has paintings in the permanent collection of each.

Missing from this impressive resume?  An undergraduate degree.

“In my first attempt at college, I had a wide variety of interests, none of which involved going to class or studying. I had no idea who I was and less of an idea of my place in the world. My 1.8 average says a lot about my academic intensity level at that time.” In 2009, came to CUNY BA to pursue Writing and Religion, to help him better express narratives of mythology and religion in his art. As one example, in a Religion Honors Seminar, he worked on thangkas, Tibetan images of meditational deities used to prepare the believer to “die before you die,” to understand what is eternal about oneself and prepare to relinquish one’s mortal being.

In 2010, he was awarded a CUNY BA Scholarship for Study Abroad. He went to Nepal to study Buddhism, thangkas and life in the Himalayan mountain range. There he completed, in addition to thangka paintings, an independent study in poetry: over 20 pages of long and short form poems to describe the sights and sensations of trekking in the mountains. One of those treks included climbing to Annapurna Base Camp, an arduous two-week trek through snow and ice to 4130 meters. His account – which included his sleeping assignment next to a buffalo – was awarded the Tessie K. Sharps Prize for Non-Fiction Writing. He also spent 10 days in silent prayer and meditation in a Buddhist Monastery, which he wrote about for a 30-page non-fiction manuscript. His trip was not limited to art, writing and religion; with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, he visited Americans held in the Central Prison, bringing them supplies, companionship and news from the outside world. With Prof. Sproul’s help, he has kept in contact with the prisoners, and more importantly with their families left behind in the U.S.

Prettyman has created dioramas for the American Museum of Natural History, painted murals at The New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, and created a 50’ tall hanging scale model of the solar system for a Canadian astrophysicist. “Scientists and artists often feel the same enthusiasm for the truth and beauty found natural world, but they have different ways of expressing their discoveries. In my work, I’m trying to convey not just the discoveries of science but also that sense of truth and wonder.”

He is excited about the digital future of storytelling. In an Advanced Writing Seminar, he worked on a story that could be viewed on a Kindle or webpage. The story’s main characters are based on the Hindu concept of Maya, or illusion, and are trapped in a bar during a snowstorm. The story is conveyed through a computer-animated snowstorm that drifts through and obscures the text in places, helping the reader relate to the characters’ experience.

Prettyman completed his degree with courses from Kingsborough, Brooklyn and Hunter. Upon graduating, he was hired as an adjunct instructor by the Hunter Religion department; he also continued to work with Profs. Adluri and Raver (Hunter, Religion), translating the ancient Hindu text The Mahabharata from the original Sanskrit and making a series of abstract imagery to accompany the text. He was awarded a CUNY Regents Research Fellowship to help support this endeavor.

Prettyman was accepted to The Yale School of Divinity on a full scholarship, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Art on a full scholarship, and a merit scholarship at the Harvard School of Divinity. He has chosen Harvard. He also plans to work with the global peace initiatives led by George Soros and Bill Gates.