As I start to think about this year’s classes one of my chief excitements is meeting new students and learning more about the students I’ve had before. Working with students is an endless process of discovery, each a new source of knowledge. I often say that every person is a library, with different subjects in different areas housing the knowledge from personal experience. There’s a physical movement area, one person plays tennis, and another can’t get off the couch. Tastes and experiences in food vary widely. One might have been in and out of the hospital with serious medical problems. Another may research world affairs and agonize over injustice. Educational background tuned certain priorities. The personal mental life has a path all its own. The trail of choices each person makes in the cyber-realm, through phones, game consoles and computers, reflect what a person cares about and craft a highly individuated point-of-view and network of connections. And then there is a philosophy about being I can sense in a student’s art, that may have an intellectual or emotional history and cultural background that reveals a way of responding to the world. This perspective is the truth from a particular place in larger being.
Understanding that everyone’s perspective can add to our own, and that “gaining perspective” is always considered a good (even when it hurts) offers a way to have constructive discussions with people of widely differing views, appreciating what each has to offer our common understanding.
The competition to have the right idea is a construct of linear verbal thinking. Visual thinking can be cooperative because its hallmark is perspective. Building perspective is a goal that increases wisdom. In a wonderful talk by Dave McCandless on “The Beauty of Data Visualization” (http://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization.html) he points out how well designed charts of information can reveal importance and meaning far better and quicker than other methods of presentation. It’s an idea that’s time has come. The word “infographics” is starting to pop up in general conversation. We’re grateful when someone combs through mountains of data and designs it in an understandable form on a single page like McCandless did with health supplements. Amounts can be shown as size and instantly compared. Understanding is led by our sense of proportion, similarity and difference. Huge advances in the understanding of world problems could begin with visualizations of information about the most complex issues. Our visual skills are there to be tapped. Multiple maps within our brains record our personal history so we instinctively understand the one-to-one correspondence in terms of location. We can be shown what something means and point others’ attention to what we think needs it. We’re on the threshold of a visual revolution that will provide the necessary tools to navigate an increasingly complex world.
And in my personal world I’m looking forward to a new landscape of ideas created by the different views of a range of new students and what each has to offer our common understanding.