If we as teachers (and leaders of teachers) have the responsibility of designing the curriculum for our children and in that, transmitting the rich awareness of inherited culture from one generation to another, then the way for that to be transmitted or recorded is through the creation and curation/ archiving of cultural artifacts, whether these be written, painted, filmed, recorded as sound, built or farmed/landscaped.
Like Bruce Cockburn, I often stand in front of wonderful creations from the range of art and design, agriculture, architecture or literature, and am mesmerised “in front of all this beauty, understanding nothing.” Neil Macgregor understood this par excellence when he was the head of the British Museum, through his wonderful series such as The History of the World in 100 objects and his excellent book on German history and culture, Germany: Memories of a Nation.
I have been reflecting on this a great deal recently, and have taken the inspiration of Larry Rosenstock’s work at High Tech High into this reflection. His thinking on the curation of our cultural productivity is an honouring of the creative process and is something I absolutely get. Last week, after the first Art Club session of the term, I displayed all the children’s work – not because it is outstanding work (it is not!), but because it represents sincere attempts to be artistic in a new medium (acrylics, as it happens) and gives a public airing to those sincere attempts, as well as evidence of process that will eventually lead to high quality paintings as the children persevere. The proper curation of such work esteems it as of worth.
Another part of my reflection reaches back over 10 years to an experience I had in a small junior school in the town of Niccone in rural Umbria. This was in June 2007. During the day we had visited a number of infant and primary schools within a group of institutions based in the town of Umbertide on the Tiber. The school at Niccone was notable for two things: firstly, for the fact that the Year 6 children there were basing their work around the theme What is Love? It encompassed everything from serious study of Greek and Roman mythology to sex and relationships education and made a profound impact on me. I really enjoyed the work that the children had done on Persephone and we used the idea of it when creating games stories in our 2013-15 Comenius project here.
The second feature that stayed with me was an astonishing play put on by the teachers from not just SP Niccone, but by others, from the central school in Umbertide (SP Leonardo da Vinci) and some of the village schools nearby. For some months previously they had worked with a film director and put on a set of small and interconnected plays based on Hermann Hesse’s Siddartha. The other day, I found the thank you letter that I wrote the following morning – an attempt to express some of the feelings that this piece of improvised and yet highly rehearsed piece of art stirred in me. It remains one of the most potent pieces of drama I have ever experienced, the more powerful for being mediated through men and women who were public servants in the Italian teaching system. It was held in the dark, and none of the photographs that we took came out with any kind of clarity. I hope that it was filmed and curated, otherwise it may not have ever reached the significance I am sure it should have had. I have been re-reading the letter wondering whether it ought to be reproduced here. I think not, but some paragraphs might help shed light on what the impact was, and what I want the impact of all great art to be:
I feel as though I have been personally performed to by a group of dancers and actors who have wooed me with words, actions and with a vision of the changing and transforming power of love, so that I felt it was, literally, an answer to many of the questions I have long had…What I have seen tonight was like an offer from God as to how I might allow myself to re-enter the paradise of fellowship and communion with others. It gave me keys. I did not know all the script, and could not follow the beautifully spoken Italian, but I understood everything. At the end of it, I sat stunned. I could not even try and give applause, because I wanted to be utterly still and allow it to transform my thinking….it is far too rare that I see something that not only excites me as an artist, challenges me as a teacher, but also describes for me so much of what God meant when he made us to be creative like Him, in His image. And for such ordinary people (sorry, not ordinary, but not professional actors either!), by the power of metaphor and their willingness to engage every sense (even touch) to be able to convey such wholeness and fullness of spirit was a form of magic. I was – literally – enchanted….You and your fellow teachers have created something truly beautiful, which at the very least should be shown to other teachers to help them learn to show children that words and material creation can be used to convey deeper and deeper meaning. The American author Richard Foster says that the prime need for today’s society is not strong people or clever people, but deep people, with deep thinking and creative expressions of our deepest and highest consciousness.
Forgive the self-indulgence, but I was glad to have found an accurate contemporary representation of what this piece of art said to me. We are not good – not accurate – at expressing our feelings about artistic endeavour, and without necessarily being pretentious, part of curation of good art consists of the accurate description of its impact on our souls. This piece of art is now properly, if digitally, curated!