Engaging eyes remix

I want my students to see new artwork. Art critical of ideas that harm women. It is timely now, when news articles appear describing threats against women opposed to misogynistic violence in video games.

Enter Jerusha Pimentel. This artist and friend allowed me to use her provocative images of women and men as an introduction to and commentary on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. 

Jerusha Pimentel's "stripper Series"

At the risk of narrowing inquiry early, I chose to use art to draw in my British Lit students, establishing a mental image of a recurring pattern they could watch for in the book; it established also the message that it was going to be OK to discuss the male gaze, double standards for men and women, and date rape.

I was permanently changed by reading Toni Morrison’s “Playing in The Dark”, because in it she shares a vision of rereading old books to see things in them we had not noticed before; she challenged me to hear unwritten voices and listen to unspoken stories; I want to pass this quest on to my students. When I approach a classic book in English class, I desire to be open to hearing my students’ discoveries.

It helps me this month to think of new works as doorways into older books. Artwork such as Pimentel’s speaks directly into the lives of today’s young women, addressing body image and men’s distorted views of the female, and interrogating  traditional understanding of gendered concepts of innocence and vice. A single effective visual can become a touchpoint for many discussions and discoveries relating today’s world and a classic text.

Face in Jerusha Pimentel's "Stripper Series"

We can do much to support our students – present or past – in producing thoughtful responses to today’s issues.

Teach literature as an ongoing conversation in which their voices are welcome and needed. If it is a closed conversation, why invite participation?

Encourage not only creativity but imagination: some of my students share that they believe they are helpless when it comes to changing the grading system itself and the way parents, colleges, and teachers equate grades with “success”. Learning, they write, is about more than a grade. We can help young people imagine the possibilities of change and progress even in the most entrenched facets of culture.

Another friend and artist, John Kuhn, began sharing conversations and discoveries with me in 9th grade. In his twenties now, he continues to explore the connections between art, thought, and culture.

coyote paints 1

Engaged learners become interested in the world and remain so. Engaged teachers demonstrate interest in their students by being open to the possibility of new discoveries in old texts.

If I had taught this the old way, I would have resorted to a dual focus on allusions in the novel, and symbols of purity. I can’t with integrity ask students to examine multiple perspectives in a text if I am unwilling to listen to their voices. I hope that art provides an engaging starting point for conversation.

Once visual art has been introduced, it is an easy step to invite students to create art of their own in response to the reading; even to take notes using creative methods such as Daniel Weinstein shares in his Creativity Core.


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