I got away from my family for a few hours yesterday to enjoy a rare (for me) opportunity to attend an art teaching thingy. I had a lot of thoughts during the excellent presentation (Philip Yenawine was presenting Visual Thinking Strategies)
What do you see that makes you say that?
In a nutshell-- the teacher presents a image (or poem or text or photo or painting or ?) and asks the following questions
What's going on in this picture?
- What more can we find?
The mediator paraphrases what the audience says before going on to the next comment.
(Hopefully) an interesting discussion ensues where all the participants are able to "see" more and learn about each other. We did it as a group with a contemporary painting showing African American people outside of either a burning/burnt church or school. I had never seen it before, and we never learned the name of the artist or the work. (I just was trying to find it on-line, no luck). The 200+ participants were mostly women, but the two men in the audience raised their hands all the time (and got called on half the time). I could have raised my hand, but I was having too much fun watching and listening to everyone else. The image could have been a Rorschach ink-blot for all the individual back-story and experience people brought. The pleasure was two-fold-- enjoying a complex and excellent painting and getting a chance to eavesdrop into the lives of perfect strangers.
- The process reminded me of text-based Bible studies I had done in InterVarsity in college. It was a similar set-up-- people gathered around naked copies of Biblical passages, everyone armed with colored pencils, highlighters and an open mind. Of my many, many years of Bible studies, these are the ones that I remember most fondly. It was very democratic and fun. People spoke, scribbled, politely disagreed and I learned a lot about the people around me and I saw the text with fresh eyes.
- Even though I didn't share, I was very engaged. I found myself wishing church could be so good. Church has all the ingredients-- willing participants, art and/or text (mostly text, but hey, there's a lot of church art out there) and someone to lead it. Are there churches like this? I have never been to one.
- I was having spiritual feelings. "Spiritual" is hard to define, but for my purposes it means "transcendent, numinous, making the intangible accessible". There's a communal aspect to it, also. Like the enjoyment of a good meal with friends.
- I was reminded how much I love art. Art in museums, art in the classroom, art on the streets and sidewalks, art in people's homes, art in nature, art in the 'nets. Art is engagement in community, in spirituality, in world-expanding.
One of the participants challenged the speaker to justify spending precious instructional time with students on this. I nearly cried in my seat. Learning how to see, learning how to think, isn't that why we have education?