Art as the Catalyst for Critical Thought

As I complete my film, I take on different jobs that pay the bills that are flexible enough to provide me with the time and freedom to focus on what matters most: my film. This month, I’m the substitute teacher in a detention room at a middle school in Southern California. At first, with the normal testing of the new guy, the job was a bit chaotic; however, now that I’ve built trust with the students and know the ropes, it is going a lot smoother. I can have real conversations with the students and many are interested in the film, my travels, the power of art, how to fund global travel.

The other day, I showed a group of students the painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Copy of Original painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

I asked what they saw and the implications of each image. The questions were simple, “What’s going on in this picture?,” “What makes you say that?” and “What else can you find?” There three very basic questions have the power to create dialogue and conversation that are at the root of critical thinking, a skill that is seldom developed in the current test driven climate of public schools. This conversation really uncovered concepts and ideas that one poerson would have never come up with on their own. We shared, respectfully listened to each other’s ideas, and gained new insights. After the conversation, I showed the following video:

This uncovered and created even more insights and understanding. It was powerful to see how a piece of art can have the power to reveal the intelligence of students who believed that they were not.