The world in a picture: Alumnus circles the globe for fresh insights

The world in a picture: Alumnus circles the globe for fresh insights

Influenced by artists such as Mark Twain and Gustav Mahler, Benjamin Sack believes that traveling widens your perspective of the world and makes you more human.

“By more human I mean traveling fosters a greater capacity for understanding, appreciation, empathy, respect and responsibility,” said Sack, a Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus. “The more you undertake, the more human you become. The more human you are, a richer artist [you become].”

Since receiving his communications arts degree from the VCU School of the Arts in 2011, Sack, an exhibiting artist, has voyaged around the world twice.

It took a lot of perseverance to achieve that goal, but Sack says part of life is about translating opportunity and keeping yourself open to possibility. While researching his travel options, he discovered that Holland America Line offers an annual around-the-globe trip. However, the price negated his chances of being a passenger.

Determined to find a way, he sent Holland America a proposal for an artist-in-residence program.

“I rationalized that a cruise of such a duration would need some sort of supplemental programming,” he said.

Holland America agreed and soon took him on.

The program was simple. Sack taught a beginner-to-intermediate-level drawing class each day at sea, accompanied by a series of lectures throughout the four-month cruise. In addition, he created a series of drawings commemorating the tour.

The series’ smaller pieces focus on individual ports visited, while a large work combines various architectural, cultural and geographic themes in one drawing. Sack compared his experience to an orchestra, nodding to the Austrian composer Mahler who said that a “symphony should contain the entire world.”

Roma 2015
Roma 2015

“I believe for my work to be successful, it too needs to strive to contain as much of the world as possible,” Sack said.

Sack relates traveling the world from port to port to visiting a museum, viewing each port as an individual painting. While staying in one place may draw richer detail, the manner in which he traveled allowed him to view many paintings while not missing out on other rewarding experiences.

“An invisible relationship opens up in the spaces between each experience, allowing you to see an even bigger, richer image,” Sack said. “An all-encompassing experience.”

Feature image at top: "Score for a Voyage," a piece by Benjamin Sack that reflects on his around-the-world journey.


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter. 

Benjamin Sack
Benjamin Sack