I was asked a few days ago to accompany our high school’s Humanities students on a field trip to NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was, at first, apprehensive; I wanted to stay in the building and get work done. Then I thought about Pink’s recommendation to just be with art for awhile and work on the right brain. So I went.
The students were required to explore European art and to do a writing project. The assignment didn’t matter, they were just excited to go and see the exhibits they had been reading about and see the art they have gazed upon in textbooks and presentations. I was excited for them. I was excited to be out of the building.
As we neared The Met, I wondered if I would do some teaching today or if I would just let the students be. But as we began our explorations, it became quite clear that the students were missing the point. They breezed past some of the most awe-inspiring works, commented about how old things looked, and just took momentary glimpses of the wonders of creativity. I couldn’t bear it. So I opened my mouth when I saw two students look at this painting and say, “pretty cool”. That was all they said.I ran to the painting (which is very tall and large) and said, “Wait just a dog-on minute! What are we missing here?”. Apparently, they had been introduced to art, but not the concept of finding meaning in art. So I became a teacher – if just for 10 minutes.
I explained the need to view art in terms of relevance, color, symbols, and context. As I was speaking, the students began to gather beneath the painting and really look at the symbols and make connections. I asked what they saw, they told, we reflected, they made strides.
I enjoyed getting “right” again. I enjoyed teaching and sharing with my students that I am not just some empty suit (no pun intended if you look at the painting) and that a love and appreciation for art is essential and healthy for the mind. I saw this happening all around me as I toured The Met; many small children gathered around a painting with a teacher. They gaze, they ponder, they ask questions, the teachers coached, and all was right with the world (pun intended).
Without a doubt, this is what Pink has in mind for our schools. We should explore with them the art, not just the artist, the words, not just the author, the context, not just the sound-bite. Any school district might well seriously consider advancing their students’ exposure to the Humanities. Courses such as Art Hisotry, World Music, World Poetry, and Visualizing should be offered from grades K-12. Classrooms could be designed to inspire right-brained thinking; art, vast colors, and worldly relics should adorn the walls. More importantly, we should move away from the “independent” learning aesthetic (singleton desks) and toward collaborative workstations – pods and open communication rounds.