Back in 2010, I was on track to becoming a certified Art Educator. There were plenty of mandatory courses needed for that degree, including a general Elementary Education class. The professor covered standard lessons such as “how to illustrate the color wheel” or “rules about composition,” but there is one lesson that I’ll never quite forget.
In this particular course I learned from my professor that when children enter elementary school, their cognitive abilities are constantly tested. This helps give teachers an understanding of the skills that students walk in with, and areas of improvement that will need to be addressed. As an Art Teacher, one of the many exercises we practiced was to ask a student to draw their backyard (or any type of landscape a teacher might choose). You ask the student to make sure to include the ground and the sky in their artwork, as well as any other details that they deem important.
Depending on the stage of cognitive growth, every child will start with grabbing a blue crayon and scribbling at the top of the page. They will then pick their favorite green crayon and will scribble on the bottom of the page. Seems logical enough. The sky is up top, the ground is at the bottom. One can argue that this is factual and makes complete sense. But what remains between the blue scribble and the green scribble is almost certainly blank. The otherwise pure whiteness of the page is only filled with the other singular details that make up the landscape, like a house, a dog, their family, etc.
It’s not until children reach a certain point where they make the realization that the sky extends down from the top of the page, and touches the ground. It is not until later on in their education that they can understand why the sky is everywhere instead of floating above everything else that is drawn.
It is a beautifully simple exercise, and one that gives any Art Teacher a great sense of accomplishment when they can see their students’ mental transition – when they can witness the “A-Ha!” moment and their student artists fill most of their artwork with the blue crayon, completing the gaps.
The reason that this modest task has stayed with me for so many years is because it also portrays an equally wonderful and simplistic metaphor. We meet colleagues and friends and family members that are all at different stages of understanding the world. Sometimes we meet someone who professes their views of the world (insert: politics, sexuality, racism, relationships, etc.) to reveal that they only see the the blue and green scribbles. We may hear their viewpoints and want to scream: “BUT THE BLUE IS EVERYWHERE, NOT JUST ON TOP!” We want to show them that their understanding of the world is still so limited. We can see it so clearly, and are overcome by our own understanding of Truth that we cannot or do not choose to see the world from their eyes.
Equally so, our own views of life and all that it encompasses may be unwittingly naïve. We express opinions as all-knowing, and get extremely frustrated when someone inserts their own questions, views, and unwelcome ambiguity into our minds.
The fact is, the blue and green scribbles are not wrong. They are just a very unique perspective on the world, and the limitations of those two marks leaves out all of the mess that is disturbing to think about. Ambiguity is hard. Seeing the world beyond black & white (or blue and green as it were), and welcoming in all shades of grey is uncomfortable. Sometimes we’re not ready for everything else. Sometimes we begin to set the rules for which questions are allowed in our lives.
A young student evolves beyond the scribbles because he or she remains curious. They continue to learn, and continue to absorb information. Once connections are made, they start to see that the sky is not always blue, but rather sometimes it’s purple, or pink, or red. Sometimes the ground is green, but what if it’s a cityscape? What if it’s a beach? What if it is the void of space itself? What crayons do you choose when suddenly the world reveals itself as something bigger than we could have ever imagined?
Curiosity is the key to understanding that the world is rarely so simple as two scribbles on a page.
We are in an era of hot debate. American politics are taking the front page, racism is more than just a cultural hashtag – it is a very real issue that we cannot shy away from, and gender identity continues to be explored and understood in new ways each and every day. We cannot limit ourselves by the two scribbles we have known for a lifetime. We must remain curious, remain open, and remain kind. We must continue to evaluate our own views and try to determine what makes us uncomfortable, or what makes us inquisitive. And as members of many different communities, we must allow others to explore the same spaces. We may end up with very different landscapes, but I would venture a guess that in doing so, our worldviews will be more beautiful than we could have ever thought possible.
So with this I invite you to grab a piece of paper and a pack of crayons and ask yourself: what exists between the scribbles on your page?