Art and the Garden, Part II: Learning to See

La Siesta, by P. Picasso

All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

Pablo Picasso

One of the more frustrating aspects of teaching school is being party to a system that drives the joy out of learning for probably nine out of ten students.  By the time students get to high school, they have had their “skills drilled” and their “proficiencies assessed” so often it’s no wonder they finish out their secondary education in a cynical haze so thick that neither my most inspired lessons nor my most intimidating deathstare can penetrate it. 

In American classrooms today, there is so little opportunity for personal expression and genuine exploration it is almost laughable.

Except it’s not.  It’s tragic. 

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When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

It’s a pleasure to discover beautiful little gems hidden in unexpected places.  I think gardeners are especially adept at this –we notice the rustle of wind through winter grass, the pattern of frost on a leaf, the first crocus pushing through the snow .  These tiny delights of the natural world are not lost on us.

If you pay attention, you can find such gems in books, too — even when they’re not intentional.  A few years ago, when I was taking my first landscape design class at GWU and trying to practice drawing, I came across an intriguing discussion of color in Betty Edwards’ classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Color is certainly a fundamental aspect of garden design, and of art in general, but I had never really thought about color in the way that Edwards’ presented it.  Word-Nerd that I am, I decided to turn the passage into a “Found Poem” — which I hereby present for your enjoyment, or possibly your amused pity.  A scan of the original text follows.

When the Sun Goes Down Color Disappears

And what is

Is it merely — as scientists tell us —

               a subjective experience

                                                               a mental sensation

that can occur only if there is     

                                                   an observer

                     an object                                         and

        sufficient light

in the narrow band of wavelengths called the

       v   i   s   i   b   l   e   s   p   e   c   t   r   u   m


Is the world really                  


only seeming to become full of color again when we turn

                                                      the lights on?

We cannot
know.                 What we do

            is that

when the sun goes down