Art, cuttlefish, and octopi

MVRHS senior Sam Warren: artist and a cuttlefish and octopus caretaker.


West Tisbury resident, and MVRHS senior, Samantha Warren (Sam) is a born-and-raised Islander. A coworker recently introduced me to Sam’s photography, and it captured my attention — her black-and-white work in particular. Though I love color, black-and-white art is compelling, striking, and illustrates how two vastly different colors can work more powerfully together than on their own.

In Sam’s photo, “Cavity,” a young man’s face is shrouded in a white plastic bag, while his body is cloaked in shadow. His eyes are not visible, there is a hint of a nose, and his mouth is wide open, his teeth on display, as if he’s just torn through the plastic and can finally breathe. This photo is not sweet nor particularly comforting. It is impactful, however, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Is he yelling, crying, or singing — finally free to express himself — or is he blindfolded, trapped, and panicking? Art isn’t always comforting, but if it makes us feel, question, or become aware of the assumptions we make while viewing it, then it’s done its job.

“My teacher, Mr. Baer, got me into photography. He really pushed me creatively to do things that were different from other people,” Sam said. Baer is a photography teacher and the chair of the art, design and technology department at MVRHS. “At first I was just doing landscapes, but as I got more into it, I decided to go a little more crazy with it — do what I wanted to do.”

Though it’s not entirely surprising that a teenager might want to do her own thing, some young people feel a lot of trepidation putting themselves out there, or doing something different from their peers. Yet Sam’s decision to break the status quo paid off: “I won an award for my portfolio, and for another piece called ‘True Colors.’”

The award Sam is referring to is a Scholastic Art and Writing award. Sam won a Silver Key for her portfolio, and an honorable mention for “True Colors.” According to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards website ( winning pieces are awarded by the Scholastic panel in categories of Gold Key, Silver Key, and honorable mention. This is a pretty big deal. Honorable mention artists are in the top 20 percent of the region, Silver Key artists are in the top 15 percent of the region, and Gold Key artists are in the top 10 percent of the region.

“I was really happy, because there were things I entered in the past that didn’t win,” Sam said. “My portfolio is more gloomy and dark, and ‘True Colors’ was a photo I spent a lot of time messing around with the color on, so I was really happy it was viewed as good in the judges’ eyes.”

Sam has always had an artistic eye: “I’ve been drawing since I was 5 years old. I like the creative aspect of things,” she said. “I’ve messed around with a lot of different mediums. I did glasswork for a while, sculpture, drawing and painting, and performing arts. I made it a rule to take at least one creative class in school each semester.”

I was curious to learn who, aside from Baer, inspires Sam to create. “I try to do things that are interesting to me personally — whatever comes to mind, or how I might be feeling,” Sam explained. “I was excited to work in a darker or a more colorful way with my photos. I just hope that people who are making art like me feel free to go into the weird side of creativity. I think sometimes people don’t dig enough into what they want to do. I think there’s a fear of judgment, especially when you’re putting something out there that’s personal, or a fear that something you put so much work into won’t land. But I think that as long as you enjoy your art, then it’s all worth it.”

Enjoy what you’re doing, listen to yourself, and act on what moves you. A wonderful reminder for anyone seeking creative inspiration and motivation. Now, all this being said, it turns out that Sam doesn’t plan on going into art as a profession. Wait, what? Hasn’t this profile been focused on art and creativity? Indeed. Yet creativity is reflected in numerous ways, and in a variety of professions. So when Sam told me she’s interning at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole to work with octopuses, I was eager to learn more about this other creative venture she’s diving into.

“A friend told me about this opportunity at the lab. Last summer, when I first reached out, they didn’t have anything available, but this internship opened up right before the semester started,” Sam said. In order to participate in the internship, Sam takes the ferry over to Woods Hole every Tuesday and Thursday for work study. “I leave the Island on the 8:15 am ferry and take the 1:15 pm back so I can be on time for sports and other activities. It’s amazing. I was super-excited for this opportunity.”

According to the website ( the MBL is dedicated to exploring fundamental biology, understanding biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. MBL draws a mix of researchers ranging from early-career scientists to Nobel laureates, and students from high school to postdoctoral.

“I’m learning a lot about octopus and cuttlefish care,” Sam said. “I feed them, clean their cages, and do aquarium care. There are also two Northeastern college students interning there full-time, so sometimes if I finish my work, I can see what they’re doing and learn from them as well. I’m learning so much about octopus and cuttlefish behavior just by watching them.”

I told Sam I was jealous. She laughed and replied, “So are my parents. They keep asking if they can come to the lab with me.”

So what’s next for Sam? “I want to go into marine biology. I’m going into college as a general marine biology major, and then I’ll narrow my focus as I get further into it,” she said. “I’ve done a few college tours and visits, but I haven’t decided where I’m going yet.”

With college just around the corner, Sam is looking forward to this next chapter. “I’m excited to go to college and get internships and maybe do some study-abroad programs. I’m not sure what country I’d like to go to yet, but I’m open,” she said. “It would be fun to get in the field, and do some diving as well. I’m a beach kid. I’ve been swimming forever, and I’ve done some surfing, which is probably why I love marine biology so much. The ocean and the beach are what I grew up with.”