Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reflections on last Thursday’s ‘Art After School’ Class

Their small feet moving in the direction I guide them, my students and I walk up the stairs to the temporary exhibit, the unmistakable bounce of a 6 year old in each step. All girls, they chatter together about their day with enthusiasm and laughter until we stand at the entrance of the gallery where an awe imposed hush falls over our lips. They move in wonder around the space, sketchbooks in hand. I am reminded of being their age and walking through this very museum, of understanding that art was something more than a single piece of work, of falling in love with the visual image as a form of expression.
We are all quiet. We are all stopping where we feel most moved to look. We are all sketching what we see with both our eyes and our emotions. We meet in a seated circle in the hallway to pow-wow. “Remember, I asked you to look with all of your senses, to listen for sounds, to imagine how things might taste or smell, to think about how the different surfaces might feel if you could touch them, and to think about the way you feel when you look at the art that way.” They look at me, ready to speak. “I just want you to give me describing words right now.” And they begin:

haunted, eerie, escape, freedom, as cold as the arctic, sorrowful, broken, pain, rough, soured…

Their words continue as an echo of other responses I’ve heard relating to ‘Deep River’ and ‘Kin’.

The temporary exhibit is an installation by a black, male artist born in the late 1950s New York. The expanse of generational and cultural differences between he and my girls is drastic. They are white, 6 year old girls from Tennessee. Still, those differences weren’t barriers for connection or understanding. That is why I think art (all art: painting, sculpture, dance, music, poetry…) is magical. It can speak across our imposed divides of race, gender, place, and even time to the essential part of our humanity. It can afford us the ability (to paraphrase the words of Hugh Prather) to not only hear what someone says, but also feel what they mean.

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