He draws lines on his paper that chisels the wrinkles of the woman’s face. He doesn’t stop, because he can’t. He’s found something in drawing this woman that he hasn’t found in his life, including his traditional education. He’s found something that resonates with his inner person that’s meeting him as he carves out the rest of her existence with his defined pencil.
Could it be that the student found something real about what he was creating? His connection to the subject matter went beyond doing a drawing and into understanding the woman behind the lines. His connection to the subject matter brought an engagement that we hope to see with all students. The woman in his drawing became more than a drawing, it was as if she brought something real and tangible for the student. Could it be that the student found meaning in drawing the woman that met an unexpressed need?
Meaning, to paraphrase its dictionary definition, is the communication of something that is not directly expressed. Given its indirect nature, exploring meaning is a difficult pursuit, because there’s no right way as to how to create meaning — just like art, which has no prescribed answer.
This is what’s absolutely beautiful about the creation of meaning, because it differs for each person or what is familiar for a group of people. But if you start to uncover what might be meaningful for someone and make those connections to them personally, they’re going to engage in their work and life with purpose and drive in a whole new way.
We’re talking about a whole new education model when we start to play with the idea of meaning and the possibilities that it can stimulate. When a student finds an idea or information relevant and emotive, he or she takes the information through their whole body. By seeking meaning, as teaching artists we find that we open up ways of learning that the student knows is possible. The student may not be able to communicate what will aid them to engage in learning, but if we facilitate a kind of learning that expresses an unrealized need, the student knows and experiences the difference.
The student I described entered his work in a whole new way, because that kind of connection to his work was made apparent for him, and as a result this dormant talent emerged. The student didn’t understand why he became engaged; he became a part of the essence of the woman he was drawing, meeting an unexpected need. I believe meaning is a gold mine in education. We’ll find an engagement in students that will surprise us, and open doors of higher thinking for the
Shaqe Kalaj is a visual artist, VSA arts fellow, and teaching artist and artist-in- residence at Art & Ideas Contemporary Art Gallery & Studio, in Plymouth, Michigan