Art serves as a connection to our shared humanity.
I had the privilege to learn with adults from around the world during my time teaching English as a Second Language. They spoke Kinyarwanda, French, Somali, Hmong, Karen, Karenni, and Nepali...and I spoke none of those languages, so we had to be creative and deeply present with one another in order to communicate. These generous humans brought new perspectives and experiences into my life and I did my best to honor their perspectives while teaching them how to speak a new language, handle money, manage cultural expectations, and, for most of them, how to read and write for the first time.
Regardless of all the practical things that needed to be taught, we teachers decided to take a break from the typical curriculum and teach a short unit on art. Of course, I knew it was going to be fun, but it was so much more. When a student didn’t know the word for stars as we gazed upon Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” she named them “moon babies,” the quietest students started asking questions, and most importantly, for just a brief moment, we got to see the world through each other’s eyes.
In fact, this was the first time I really got to experience how my students saw the world rather than showing them how to see the world through mine and I was forever changed.
Looking at the exact same painting, they were experiencing its symbols very differently. No one got angry, no one refused to work with another, no one stormed out of the room. They each shared their view points and we all had the opportunity to see the painting through different lenses. They disagreed and we moved forward with a little more information about our school community than we had before.
I got to experience the value of art I'd always held in my heart and put into words answers to the question, "Why Art?"
Over the years, I've realized we can’t ever truly experience what another is feeling or accurately see the world through another person’s lens, but we can get glimpses into others’ perspectives if we keep an open mind and heart. And we can believe people when they share that they’ve experienced the world differently than we have.
At a time when social justice issues are rising up again and as equality evolves into equity, art can help us to both shine a light on our differences and connect us to each other's humanity.
© 2019 Kristin Perry