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Environmental pride.

Glance. Glare. Gaze. Stare. How do we experience the visual? Is it by looking at things in the world around us in terms of lines, shapes, forms, colors, values, and textures? Or, do we take it all in, make meaning from the whole, and respond? Check it out with a magazine ad. As we look at what people are wearing or doing, might we catch ourselves thinking, "That's who, where, or what I want (or don't want) to be." Might identity or status be logical entry points for exploring meaningful viewing?

Filter. Focus. Examine. Scan. What's our experience with objects in the world? Why do we collect, display, or use some objects more than others? Is it because we admire their unity, variety, and balance? Or do we surround ourselves with things that have special meaning in our lives? Might remembrance or place be thematic approaches for learning to view lovingly?

Group. Compare. Extract. Distill. How can we describe the way we view our environment? We might see landscapes or neighborhoods as quiet, chaotic, comfortable, or disturbing long before we analyze the arrangement of forms. I guess I am questioning some basic assumptions we seem to hold about what's important in art education. Sometimes we choose entry points and teach concepts without consideration of context, theme, expressiveness, or the human condition--things that matter most in the grander scheme of life-long, prideful viewing.

As creatures who share this planet, we have at least six options for approaching and responding to our environment: prideful, adapting, rebelling, shutting down, going crazy, of expiring. I'm sure there are others. I personally have not experienced an environment that would make me opt for death, but I did, at one time in my life, go crazy. A few times I've rebelled or shut down. For the most part, I've tried to adapt. My ultimate goal is prideful viewing.

Going Crazy/Withdrawal

There are lots of things that can drive us crazy. My episode was reverse culture shock, which means it occurred upon re-entry into my own culture after having been immersed in another for two years. The breakdown was triggered by visual overload. One afternoon, while food shopping, the aisles of the supermarket started closing in on me. Everywhere I looked there were signs and labels, words and pictures. I could not take it all in. There were too many choices. I could not make decisions. Shortness of breath. Throbbing pulse. Panic. I was later told that after I pushed my shopping cart into a pyramid of green bean cans, I stood in the aisle screaming, "Get me out of here. I can't live like this." A few days later, I resigned from my teaching position, withdrew to our farm, and spent a few quiet months clearing creek banks.

Rebelling/Shutting Down

Rebels, like revolutionaries, usually have a cause and try to bring about change--not change in self or place, but change in others. Rebelling against the environment can take many forms. Right now, my friend Michael is going through a rebellious phase of boycotting movies and American television. He has a litany of reasons, but it comes down to "I don't want to be manipulated by the media." He only turns on a TV when he's visiting another country. Sometimes we just have to move on, tune out, turn off, or shut down.

Adapting

To adapt is to become attuned to our surroundings. Rather than withdrawing or trying to change the behavior of others, we try to understand the way we see what we see and why we see it that way. We recognize sources of influence and patterns in our viewing experiences. We come to terms with our biases and conditioning. We learn to filter, extract, and categorize. This requires careful observation, ongoing inquiry and reflection, systematic evaluation, and making informed decisions when acting upon visual forms in society.

Becoming Prideful

Taking pride in our environment is dependent on the development of skills for lovingly viewing the world around us. As we become skilled at looking for themes expressive of the human condition, we learn how to view lovingly. We become discerning thinkers and discriminating consumers. We value the meaning and expressiveness we encounter in our world. We take care of the environment and take responsibility for our contributions to it--that's environmental pride.

As we adapt ideas from SchoolArts and contemplate constructing lessons that center on environmental pride, might we set aside our traditional elements and principles of design approach and explore alternatives? The elements and principles certainly help students focus on particular visual qualities and arrangements, but the approach often lacks the meaningfulness necessary to help students find connections to their own lives.

Eldon Katter, Editor
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Title Annotation:Editor's Comments
Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:783
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