|two panels of an 6-panel painting by Gerhard Richter|
This painting covers most of one very large wall in the St. Louis Art Museum.
For three days this week I was at our city's art museum, taking a workshop. Teacher-writers from three National Writing Project sites came together to explore how art could enrich children's lives as well as thicken up their writing and thinking and math and science and social studies so that it will end up a meaty, flavorful broth.
(So don't ever talk about teachers' three-month vacation. None of us were paid to do this. We did it because we're
suckers for committed to our students. And besides that, the museum has the coolest paper and gigantic clipboard paintings to work with.)
For one activity, we went into one of the galleries filled with extremely abstract paintings. This Richter painting (part of it is shown above) was on one wall, but our facilitator sat us in front of the (also large) painting on the opposite wall of Richter's work.
I breathed a sigh of relief, because looking at both of them, I connected more with the one we were going to study. The Richter...too abstract, too "out there," too weird.
After talking 10 minutes or so about our task at hand, our facilitator said, "Now turn around, because the painting we are going to be working with is behind you."
Oh no! The Richter!
And for close to two hours, we dived into the painting and when we were forced to surface at the end, it was reluctantly. We "moved" through the painting (physically), we made noises that corresponded with particular parts of the painting, we wrote about the painting, we drew what the painting compelled us to draw, and we created 3-D "visitor guides" for the painting. (People gathered and watched, curious about what we were doing, and why...)
Our facilitator noted that docents have no idea what to do with this painting. They run-walk by it, saying, "And here's a very famous painting," and (probably) pray they don't get any questions about it that are not answered by the label on the wall.
It's all in our eyes. If we just dismissively rush by a painting, a person, a poem, or a story without looking deeply, we miss out.
So the next time you see a piece of art you don't instantly connect with, the next time you see a person who doesn't look like they're your "type," the next chance you get to read a story that isn't what you're normally drawn to, stay there for a while. You might find that depth leads to clarity...