I brought these beautiful ranunculus to class yesterday to pull them apart to see all their beautiful parts.
Each student got a couple to pull apart and draw. I wanted them to peel away the hundreds of tiny, soft, delicate petals one by one. I asked them to shake the pollen out, to really see what color it was, to get all the way inside to actually open up the stamen to peer into the center of the beauty of it all.
I asked them to draw what they saw, not what they thought they were supposed to see. That’s always so difficult. I asked them to draw with their eyes closed, to visualize what they had seen, to recollect that image.
One guy said, “I am 57 years old and I have never drawn.” He said when he was a little boy he never got to draw at home or at school.
This is what he drew.
I then showed the students botanical illustrations from the 1600s by Basilius Besler.
I thought about the man drawing these flowers 400 years ago and others coloring them and the hours of daylight or candle light or strain to eyes and hand that it took to produce these hundreds of plates. I think what a gift to us 400 years later.
My student told me that when he leaves prison he wants to come back as a mentor. I asked how he would help with his mentoring and he said “I would tell them that there is only one way out of here and its through the front door.”
These conversations that we have while the men draw bring out an honesty that is almost heavy enough to pull apart, draw and inspire with their beauty.
I walked into the library on the way to the classroom yesterday and saw a familiar man reading The Age of Innocence. I didn’t want to act surprised but I was. At first I thought he must think its about how to get out of jail if you are indeed innocent. Then I thought that was really obnoxious on my part. I felt even worse since I had just been quoted in the paper talking about the low level of education many of my students have. So I nodded hello and kept walking. In class we read aloud that same article. While stumbling over words one student said he was teasing when he said he did not know how to use a dictionary. While it didn’t seem like he was teasing at the time, I said it was indeed important not to tease about such things less people believe you, quote you, and see you as something you are not. He then proceeded to tell me how much he loved the class and that even though he was “forced” to attend, he would choose to attend regardless.
I am asked to give statistics for the class as a way to evaluate validity; age, ethnicity, number of classes, hours of class, skills taught, skills learned… sometimes its more about assumptions made, stereotypes dispelled, more assumptions made ad infinitum. Sadly, I am part of that crowd making those assumptions as much as I try not to.
As I left class I passed my Edith Wharton friend and commented “How is it going?” He told me “Well, I am writing a screen play”.
“Everything may be labelled- but everybody is not.”
― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
Love this program.