The Suitcase Lady


May 10, 2011, 10:00 pm

“Wear a crown of eyes around your head,” was the advice of Joan Miro’s art teacher in Barcelona. That is wonderful advice for any student who yearns to be more observant.

“Do not put your eyeballs in your forehead,” is what I tell my middle school students in my best teacher voice. My younger students draw spontaneously and would be harmed by constant criticism. But by middle school, the techniques of art are appropriate subject matter, and a lesson in self portraits always includes warnings about eyeball placement. Then I add, “Don’t make me go crazy when I walk around the room in fifteen minutes and your eyeballs are where your brain is supposed to be…literally.” The kids laugh, knowing they would never do that.

The students start drawing and erasing, and I hold up examples of portraits by da Vinci, Rembrandt, Matisse, Grant Wood  and Alex Katz. I note that these masters do not situate eyeballs in their sitter’s foreheads.

I begin my walk around the room and stop at a desk. I quietly say to the student, “Look hard at what you have just drawn. Do you see anything wrong?”

A short period of silence is followed by a sheepish voice saying,”I put my eyes in my forehead.”

“Well, you did draw that eyeball beautifully,” I will add. “Now draw it again and try to put it where it belongs.”

This exchange happens all the time, and, almost always, the artist and I can laugh about it.

Getting the details right, but failing to see how the details fit into the bigger picture causes grief in more than art classes. That tower at Pisa has beautiful detailing on the outer walls. None of us is immune.

Brains are great things to have, but they can lead our eyes seriously astray.

Here are 2 kindergarten portraits, and 4 middle school portraits by my students.

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