Cubism & The Risk of Vulnerability

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. 

Katherine Mansfield

One of my professional and personal goals this year has been to take more risks. My primary motivation is that I want my students to take more risks, too; to develop a desire to become more vulnerable with/in their own learning. I recognize the importance of modelling the behaviours that I ask of my students: to see me make mistakes; to reveal that I have fears; to recognize and acknowledge my ongoing challenges. That I get up after falling down. I wish them to see there are many things that I do well, and an equal number of things that I cannot do. I’m not good at it.

One of the areas in my life that I have always felt an awkward relationship are the arts. Art of all kinds: performance, visual, dance, music. And while this relationship to the arts has been nearly non-existent since elementary school, I fondly recollect some of the most inspiring of my earliest friends were those in the school band, the drama club, whose murals anointed the walls of our school. I recently took up the guitar and purchased a set of electronic drums (I suppose I could only hold out for so long.). I bought a sketchbook last year and have been writing this blog for nearly a decade. As much as I tried to avoid it, my obvious affinity for the arts was only a matter of time.

Three weeks ago, it was with a combination of excitement and nervousness, that I proclaimed to my students that from here on out Tuesday afternoons would become Try-It Tuesdays. Yes, the guy that has never taken an art class in his nearly fifty years declared that he was teaching art. And oh, gawd, what had I done?

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are.

Miguel Angel Ruiz

Our first foray into the visual arts consisted of watching a five-minute video on creating zentangle art. After searching for patterns and a little bit of inspiration, the class then proceeded to explore. Initially, there were some hesitations; some students sat back with the sketchbooks open staring into the distance. A few others were motionless perhaps praying I wouldn’t make the rounds to investigate their work; to ask them how things were going. But I didn’t make the rounds. I didn’t ask them how they were doing. I didn’t even ask if they understood what they should be doing. I simply returned to my desk, turned on my soft jazz and started to focus on my own zentangle piece.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday afternoon and another Try-It Tuesday. Next up? Cubism. When I asked who had ever heard of cubism and/or Pablo Picasso immediately several hands were raised. We explored examples of cubism, viewed a brief summary of Picasso’s life, and a seven minute cubism for beginners we jumped right in. But before doing so, I decided to show the class my initial attempt at cubism art the previous night. I projected the piece and momentarily held my breath.

The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.

W.E.B. Du Bois

Under their watch, I added some shading there and cross-hatching here with a charcoal pencil. A student in the back suddenly blurted out, “Jeff, why do you think you’re not good at art? That [pointing at the projection] looks amazing to me.”

Everyone’s pencils went down. I felt all eyes land on me. I laughed nervously. I felt a lightness in my chest. A relief in my shoulders. I paused and looked at the ceiling for what seemed an eternity before collecting myself and made eye contact with the student.

“Because I was scared. I was scared of not being perfect. I had fears of being judged by each of you. I mean, I’m still a little scared. Nothing perfect. I’m still scared of being judged even at my age. Weird, huh?”

“Ha! I think you’re a pretty good artist anyway.”

I chuckled a prideful sort of gesture, “Thanks. I’ll have to remember that for next time.”

Next month’s Try-It Tuesday’s exploration? 


Why the hell not? 


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