Earlier this year when I was in San Francisco and between speaking gigs, my perspective shifted a bit by visiting a Claude Monet exhibit at the deYoung Museum. That encounter coalesced into a blog post leaning on allegory about the role of reflection in leadership. Just this week, I had the opportunity to see yet another Monet exhibit, this time at the Denver Art Museum.
Connecting with fine art sparks new ideas that I relate to my everyday life in Montessori. The deYoung Museum focused on art from Monet’s later years, while the Denver exhibit spanned his ages and locations; this time travel was highlighted by having four generations of our family experiencing the exhibit together. I found that we had five completely different experiences when viewing the same exhibit, an analogy of a Montessori classroom where students engage in and perceive their experiences in the same environment in completely different ways.
A quick lesson on our family: my husband Aaron’s grandmother of whom we call “G-Mom”, is a 97 year old, independent-living, working artist whom you can find in her studio painting most days of the week. G-Mom is the first born of her generation, and her daughter, Susan, also the first born of her generation, is on the commercial side of art, selling our G-Mom’s paintings and working in galleries that exhibit her art. Aaron is the first-born of our generation and he has appreciated art in many forms his whole life. He also married an artist (I have a B.S. in Art:Sculpture) and is father to Mali who is 22, the first of the youngest generation in our family and is also a working artist.
This family tutorial gives you the context underlying our outing and my discovery of how perspective forms experience, just like the engagement and outcomes of students in our Montessori classrooms.
Although all five of us are highly familiar with post impressionist painters, are avid museum goers, and we started at the same timed entry, we moved through the exhibit at our own pace, some guided by the audio tour and others without any commentary other than our own sensory intake.
Our Context Shapes Our Engagement
What I discovered about our particular experience in the museum closely mimicked the experiences I’ve had in a Montessori classroom. In Montessori, each adult steps into an environment, reads the moment within the context of the place and time, and responds accordingly. Every student in our classrooms also engage with the environment and construct their understanding of themselves and of concepts, responding to their place and time.
“No two persons ever read the same book.” ― Edmund Wilson
For our G-Mom, her experience in the museum was differentiated by physical limitations as she’s legally blind and viewed each painting from a child’s visual height and as close to the canvases as allowed from her temporary perch in a wheelchair. Her responses to each canvas ranged from pure delight in the simple yet brilliant application of color and form, to a display of furrowed eyebrows relaying her wonder of what message Monet might have been trying to convey.
Our daughter moved through the gallery independent of an audio or living guide, choosing the canvases that weren’t as trafficked, filtering out the stimuli of crowds of chatting visitors; whereas my mother-in-law relied on the accompanying audio guide and methodically went in order from painting to painting.
Each of us engaged in the exhibit as uniquely as we walk through life.
Our Engagement Influences our Perspective and Vice Versa
Our journey didn’t stop at the doors to the museum . . . our car ride became a stage of enthused revelations sharing our perspectives. Each of us took away anomalous impressions of the exhibit, and our sharing of these perspectives further enriched our process of understanding what we saw.
I was struck by the diversity between us in how we experienced the exhibit. Each of us were influenced by our education, our privilege, our challenges and abilities, and everything that identifies us as individuals, giving us unique insights into the exhibit. Each of us were fine working through the exhibit at our own pace based on our choice and interest.
“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not follow that we should see them.” ― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In
This dynamic is analogous to the Montessori environment where children are absorbing an entire classroom culture through the lens of their development and identities. While stable and somewhat static with a canon of materials, the Montessori environment provides the framework for each student’s novel interactions.
Each child enters the Montessori classroom, essentially a learning lab, with a complex weave of identities and life experiences that give context to their engagement. These variables range from the intersections in their home life, their race and gender, their temperament, their socio-economic status, their abilities, their citizenship, their religion, and more, to the traumas of Adverse Childhood Experiences they have experienced. These create the context their experience which in turn influence the quality and depth of opportunities for transformation inherent in the Montessori environment.
I believe as an educator, it’s important to remember to see each child as their own story, distinctly wired, and best served by traveling a learning path at their own pace.We leverage our own perspective by seeing the child wholly, within their context, to amplify their experience with the potential to release their potential. Like Claude Monet’s series of twenty-five haystacks, capture a vision of each child at different times of day, from different points of view, in changing light, in order to find the truth of who they are.
“You have to know how to seize just the right moment in a landscape instantaneously, because that particular moment will never come again, and you’re always wondering if the impression you got was truthful.” – Claude Monet
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 26 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12