Example #67 Art and Attentiveness
What if studying art involved loving attention?
Jess’s art class had all been asked to watch some TV adverts the night before and to come ready to share an advert that caught their eye. They were also asked to time the adverts. The adverts were shared and the average time worked out along with some criteria for why these particular adverts had been eye-catching.
"I wanted the students to give a painting serious, loving attention, not glance at it like an advert. I wanted them engage with the contrast between a painting and an advert. Advertisers have to get their message across in seconds but paintings need the long gaze.
"I projected The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan Van Eyck for the average time of an advert then I masked the screen. I asked how would this painting rank as an advert? Did anything ‘catch the eye’? Were any of the criteria from advertising present? We went on to talk about how we looked at adverts and how a different type of looking was needed for paintings. We spent a long time looking at the painting, taking it in as a whole and looking at the details. We looked from a distance and close up using the zoom facility. We tried using our imaginations to explore different parts of the painting: textures, smells, tastes, sounds. We noted the affect the painting had on us. Only when we had spent time with the painting did we start to ask questions and use these to guide our research.
"After we had researched the painting we discussed ways in which different people’s responses and our research affected how we saw the painting, and what difference it made to look at it together with others. We discussed if the painting had a message like an advert and how we responded to it. We finished the lesson by spending time in silence looking at the painting again so that the painting had the last word."
What’s going on here?
She engaged students by drawing on their experience (of adverts) to lead them to consider a contrast, involving their imaginations, and giving them ways of practising focused attention (slow examination, silence).
She reshaped her practice by choosing an opening question, providing different ways of looking at the painting, explicitly encouraging reflection on how we look at images, and attending to the structure of the lesson (the silence at the end).
What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?
It is easy for students to go through life glancing at the world, giving it superficial thought and attention. Loving attention is grounded in humility and respect; a willingness to believe that there is something worthwhile there that escaped our first glance. This is an attitude that considers that others deserve to be heard and recognises their worth as people made in the image of God. In learning to love an artwork we step outside our immediate likes and dislikes and seek to give our attention to something that is important to someone else. Learning to love an art work (or any other work) does not have to be an emotional response, it is more of a commitment with a willingness to be challenged.
What difference does it make?
The way Jess taught this lesson made students aware of the kinds of attention encouraged by television adverts and how it could limit their engagement with other genres. It offered students concrete practise in extending their ways of viewing and challenged them to move beyond immediate likes and dislikes.
Where could we go from here?
Looking and listening with loving attention could be encouraged in other subjects, for example developing ways of reading texts that are slow and attentive.
Casual glancing can be the result of our over-stimulated environment, but our own self- absorption, superficiality and a lack of respect can also lead to paying scant attention. We need to cultivate a deep way of viewing the world so that we can look away from self to the object or person seen. We need to try to see things on their own terms and not just from our perspective. This is a way of viewing the world that is not centred on self.
… for Augustine, sin was no more than self-love: sin consisted in valuing oneself over others and conceiving of others and of God in terms of one’s own self. … It was to measure others in reference to oneself, to enter into social relations out of self-interest. Lee Palmer Wandel, from Zwingli and Reformed Practice
If we value others we give their lives, ideas and what they produced careful attention. A painting takes time and skill, creativity and hard work. The artist gives something of him or herself. Paying loving attention to what we study is a mark of respect and that takes humility. Humility was an attitude exemplified by Jesus (Philippians 2:5-6).
By paying loving attention to other people’s work we recognise their worth. The Bible teaches that people have worth by virtue of being created by God and made in his image or likeness (Genesis 1:27). If everyone is made in God’s image there is the possibility of learning from a wide range of people, not just Christians, though discernment is needed. All people have the potential to reflect the image of God.
Scholars differ in how they understand what 'being made in the image of God' means; it could be our creativity, our role in bringing order in the world, or reflecting something of God. It could be our ability to make moral decisions and our social relationships. It could be our ability to think or our ability to have a relationship with God. All these are related; the image of God cannot be reduced to one thing. The image of God is marred in humanity – like a cracked mirror. Only Jesus perfectly reflected God.
Explore similar examples:
This example draws on:
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #10
(…towards focused, loving attentiveness)
- Strategies for Seeing Anew #11
(…towards respect and reverence)
- Strategies for Engagement #1
(...to focus on key ideas and issues)
- Strategies for Engagement #2
(…to think with a key image or phrase)
- Strategies for Engagement #3
(…to explore a fresh emphasis)
- Strategies for Engagement #9
(…to reflect carefully on ideas and experiences)
- Strategies for Engagement #10
(…to consider contrasts and dissonance)
- Strategies for Engagement #11
(…to explore possibilities for active commitment)
- Strategies for Engagement #12
(…to explore topics within a new context or framework)
- Strategies for Engagement #13
(…to critically engage with examples, activities and tasks)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #11
(Focus, identify, highlight, be intentional)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #12
(Change the emphasis)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #13
(Change key words and metaphors)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #18
(Change your planning: timing, sequence and lesson structure)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #19
(Check what you give significance to, test and reward)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #20
(Plan time and space for reflection)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #21
(Change the student interaction)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #22
(Ask big questions / change your questioning)
- Strategies for Reshaping Practice: The habits of the classroom #23
(Provide contrasts and set up dissonance (clashes))