Paths We Take

Ella in the Woods


The inarticulate label of “artsy-fartsy” should be banished from the lexicon of all brain-bearers. Is it a lamely bestowed title to those not understood? I perceive it as a phrase that smugly pats the head of those who do not fit in a box—or as I now think of it: a black square—so basic, a flat shape denoting “standard” or definable. So I suppose, this is a compliment to those of us who do to fit in that blank square. 

I spent much of my career defending students who looked at a blank box and thought ideas like can we fill it with analogous colors? Or draw a little thumbnail mandala in it OR around it, letting it be the center of “the answer.” Maybe those numbers and x and y mysteries symbolized a vast surreal Bosch-like landscape where the lines curved and met to form unknown machinery? No, “artsy-fartsy” is an inauthentic smiling nod… ah little one, take your colored pencils over there in the corner and have at it. Algebraic puzzles are not for you—and the answers that fit squarely are of supreme knowledge. Your fanciful ideas about “but what else or why not?” are in the clouds. 

I agree with Temple Grandin as she writes in her recent opinion for the New York Times (1/9/23): “Society is Failing Visual Thinkers, and That Hurts Us All,” about schools who continue to force one size fits all curriculum (specifically math and science dominated) and that innovation will continue to be stifled. I do not discount the importance of math and science curriculum, but I wish it was understood that the importance of creative thinking, especially within the arts is as critical and not just a pretty frivolity to enjoy as entertainment. Life is actually full of unknowable answers that will never fit in a square void. Accepting that there are many ways to think and approach problems would be a more reasonable way of designing curriculum. In this way, perhaps we many find creative ways to work toward solutions that seem unsolvable. I do wonder about the hundreds if not thousands of students I have taught, whose talents and ways of thinking were not acknowledged as valuable and worthy, especially in comparison with the students acing calculus. These students were “less than” in the high school and college entrance competition hierarchy. I wish, and hope they eventually came to discover that their differences, their unique and individual way of thinking and seeing the world is necessary and exactly what we need. Unfortunately, “data” doesn’t address this and can’t measure what could’ve/would’ve been if these potential great thinkers/makers/designers/problem-solvers had been nurtured and supported to seek out their particular path. A path that just might spiral infinitely around that empty square leading to what is currently unanswerable.