The Aesthetic of Classroom Experience

Any one experience is made up of many smaller experiences. For example, jumping into cold water is not just the experience of “wet.” It is made of many sensations from cold, to wet, to weightlessness, to moving vertically down and then up. It has emotions like exhilaration or fear. The water may taste salty and the sounds may be muffled. All experience has other elements attached.

Reading for example is made up of some words and some thoughts. It is made up of the physical sensations of where the reader is sitting. It is made up of feeling developed both from the reading and feelings that were prevalent before the reading started. If hungry, the reader is also experiencing hunger as well as the content of the reading. Have you ever been reading and then all of a sudden realized you have been thinking of something entirely different from the words on the page?

The reason our living rooms are not just featureless and bare walled rectangles is because we want to create an experience for people, namely ourselves, when we inhabit the space. The stuff we put on the walls changes the way we interact with the environment. Colors, textures, windows, open space and narrow spaces, all of these things change the very nature of how we experience the event of standing there in the room.

Blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean. Right?

jamesandgiantpeachill1 (1)In the world of school, much of what we get to do is read words. That’s cool. Words are useful. I love words. I like them so much I became an English teacher. My house is full of them. Some are pages full of nothing but words, but some are books with illustrations. Now why would people want to mess up some perfectly good words with pictures? Maybe they were told, “A picture paints a thousand words.” So either they were lazy authors and figured they could tell the story without cramping their hands writing so many darn words just to explain something? Or maybe their publishers thought the story sucked so they thought some other medium might make up for the crappy story. Who knows, but I know, from personal experience, images can help tell a story because they, like the experience of jumping in the cold water, add another dimension to the experience. It is not necessary. But it does make the experience different.

So what about the classroom? So if we believe that what a place looks like can shape the experience of a person, what do we think a classroom might do for a student’s experience? Let’s go back to your living room. What is the purpose of the framed painting you have there? Is it to distract people away from the worn carpet? Is it to inspire? Is it there to create a sense of calm? Is it there because it is the only piece of art you have and that seemed as good a place as any to hang it? Let’s look close at this classroom.

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As we know, all experience is made up of smaller sensory and emotional events, how does this classroom shape the experience of the learner? Maybe it says, “Hey, there is nothing going on here so focus on the teacher and the Powerpoint.” Maybe it says, like an uninhabited home, “No one lives here.” Or, “No one owns this place.”

Let’s take a vote. Do you prefer blank walls in the classroom or walls with stuff on them? Sorry I can’t be more specific about “the stuff” but let’s just assume it is a few framed “average” pieces of art or cheezy inspirational/motivational posters. I suppose it could even be hanging plants. Imagine that!

Who’s job is it to put stuff on these walls anyway? The presidents? The students? The teachers?

Well, I am just going to sit in my office with all these images on the walls that help me feel like I have some history, some connection to “the real world” beyond these walls, and be reminded of a favorite bookstore (City Lights) a favorite photographer (Ansel Adams) a favorite author (Robert Louis Stevenson) and a former student who passed away many years ago but is still close to my heart.

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For myself, I already added some stuff to the walls of the college. That is, like, totally against policy I might add.  Does it make any difference? To student number 63 or to teacher number 4? To me? Why yes, yes it does.

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3 Responses to The Aesthetic of Classroom Experience

  1. Chris Heyer says:

    Art of any kind enhances learning spaces!

  2. Pingback: Monkey in the Classroom: Moving the Statue