One of my students thinks she might want to be an art teacher, and nothing could make me happier. What makes me particularly happy is that she has clearly learned what the actual goal of being an art teacher is: Changing how people see the world. Let me explain.
She has been teaching a group of elementary and middle school pupils how to draw. A short while ago she was watching a girl, who I shall call Maggie. Maggie was drawing an outdoor scene. The teacher came up and asked her what she was doing.
“I’m coloring in the tree,” said Maggie.
“So I see. What color are you making it?”
“Brown, of course.” Stupid teacher.
“Let’s look out the window at the trees,” said the teacher and took Maggie to the window.
“What color are trees, Maggie?” asked the teacher.
Maggie stared. “They…They’re kind of grey….”
The teacher nodded.
“I’ve been lied to!” said Maggie.
Many of us are like Maggie, accepting a view of the world that we are given, without question, and never bothering to really look at the world ourselves, to find out what color the trees actually are. At some point we are told that trees are brown and although we may pass trees every day of our lives, and see them right enough, when it comes to drawing trees, we color them in brown.
Women are weaker than men.
Immigrants are lazy.
Black men are drug dealers.
Liberals want to take away our guns.
Conservatives are all secret Nazis.
You can’t have morals without God.
People of faith are all dupes.
Trees are brown.
And the truth is, some trees are brown. Copper Cherries. Scotch Pines. But the trees that actually grow here, the trees Maggie sees every day, are gray. With green patches, because there’s a lot of algae and moss on them. And that’s where things get difficult; when some things are half true, or true sometimes, we accept them as true, without really looking for ourselves.
The reason I was an art teacher, the reason I am an Art Minister is because of what every good artist learns: To be an artist, you must learn to look, really look, at the world around you. You can’t draw what other people have drawn, you can’t paint what you think the world looks like, you can’t really, honestly express yourself before you see. Really see. See honestly. No judgement, no preconceptions, just look and see.
Because the job of an artist is to show what they see. Even if what they see is straight out of their imagination, to show it you must understand how people see it.
And to understand how we all see, we must look.
That’s why children like Maggie need teachers like my student. Art teachers. To teach them how to see, and to realize that, yes, they have been lied to and to understand that it is up to them to see for themselves, so they don’t get tricked again. Because the next thing you know, they’ll be telling you that the sky is blue*, and the grass is green.
And because that lesson doesn’t just apply to art. It applies to everything.
So, not much about not being a dick today. Except that, in a very real way, what my student did, in teaching Maggie to see, is the opposite of being a dick. It’s doing as she had been done by. She taught as I taught her: to see for herself. She treated Maggie with respect, and let her see for herself.
And that is the act of an anti-dick.
*Here in Seattle, the sky is grey, more often than not.