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On Perspective. Part One.

Perspective: late Middle English (in the sense ‘optics’): from medieval Latin perspectiva (ars) ‘(science of) optics’, from perspect- ‘looked at closely’, from the verb perspicere, from per- ‘through’ + specere ‘to look’.


After we finished an intense history block in March that ended with project presentations over Zoom, I asked my #2 and #3 teenagers what they wanted to learn in April with their friends.

One said perspective drawing and the other said literature. (To be more precise, she said, “Shakespeare! Please Mom!” If you know my girls, you probably know which one said what.)

Although I have done perspective drawing with them before, one wanted to do it again. She said, “I think now would be a good time, Mom.”

I agreed, much to the chagrin of the Shakespeare-lover.

I opted for Perspective Drawing for 2 reasons:

1) The inundation of facts or funny Old English words proved to be frustrating and challenging as we delved into understanding the politics and historical events of the United States. We were brain-tired connecting the dots of the past and present.

2) Like geometry, it’s precise and there is little ambiguity but room for creative flair. It is an activity that requires “doing” and “trying.”

I coupled this with our 21 Days of How To Live Journalling Prompts which turned into 29 days.

We also started doing two novel studies where half the class is reading The Iliad(original by Homer – English translation) and the other half is reading To Kill A Mockingbird. We are moving slow, especially with the Iliad, to allow for comfort with the language used in these books.

Both books were suggestions from my teenagers. They wanted to read good books and discuss them – like a book club. _To Kill A Mockingbird_was a perfect selection for after studying U.S. History. The Iliad was a surprise. Her motivation: “It’s challenging and I want to read the original to understand why it’s referenced so much.”

As you can see, a lot of what I do is co-created with my children and the children I teach. Not all the kids want to learn the same thing but after a year and a half of learning this way, they are always willing to give it a try and perhaps find something interesting that they didn’t expect to learn. This allows for a respect for each other’s interests and curiosities while maintaining an open mind that you may be surprised at what you learn. And maybe even liking the topic.

Enter Perspective Drawing. They are open but hesitant. There are a lot of belief systems in place, including from one of my daughters, at not having “art” as their thing or they’re not good at it, blah, blah, blah. I heard the same with Chemistry or History or even the novels.

For each lesson, we take out a piece of paper, our straightedges and triangles and we draw. In our first lesson, we began with the horizon. We spent the first lesson drawing a familiar vista for all the kids that live here. After the horizon line was drawn, I told them that this is where the sky meets the sea.

Now you have to understand that our beaches have been closed for weeks. Before all of this, all of these kids would get together to play volleyball and often sit on the beach looking at this horizon. They know it well.

In this moment, they had to pull it from memory – the colours especially. What type of blue is the sea closest to the horizon? And how do you know when it becomes sky? There is a line that is made as the two blues meet. As we change from the deep blue near the horizon to a lighter one as we get nearer to the shore, we show distance. We know that the horizon isn’t two feet away.

In the next lesson, I briefly talk about the revolutionary technique of Perspective Drawing that begins in the Renaissance. There is a change in the way we see and translate it to a two-dimensional page. Art literally changes perspective with the philosophy of Humanism.

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.

– George Eliot, Middlemarch

Toward the end of the week, we have created a small courtyard using one-point perspective. I introduced the “vanishing point.” We talked about the concept that only here, in this realm of perspective drawing, do parallel lines converge. They converge to this imaginary point – “the vanishing point.”

When we physically look at a road, we see how parallel lines seem to converge because of the way our eye is constructed to understand depth. In reality, we keep traveling on the road and it does not narrow. This may seem obvious but we take this for granted. This ability of spatial awareness in this way. Paintings prior to the Renaissance were flat.

It’s a strange concept after learning in math that parallel lines never converge. We changed our perspective. We could see how we could geometrically construct our art to represent our reality. It follows the language of the universe – math and physics.

After two weeks of perspective drawing and looking at Renaissance art and philosophy, I sat with my child who would have rather read Shakespeare. I wanted to check in with how she was feeling about drawing.

She hesitated. I was ready for an eye roll and a frustrated answer. The last time we tried perspective drawing it ended in one of those “I’m not my sister” outbursts (see below) so we quit it and never tried it again until now.

She took a deep breath and said, “Up until a few days ago, I was rehearsing how to tell you that I wasn’t going to continue these lessons with the class and propose an independent learning month where I outline my readings and what I want to learn. You know, take responsibility for my learning.”

Oh those magic words: “responsibility for learning.” She knows me so well. I am ready to acquiesce.

But she paused and looked up at me, “Because mom, it’s hard. I don’t like drawing, especially perspective. Everyone is so much better than I am. But then I literally changed my perspective. I thought about how most of the blocks we do, we write. And I LOVE writing. I love writing essays and compositions. I love summarizing. And it comes so easy and naturally. Then I thought about my sister and some of my classmates who struggle but try anyway to get better. And so I may never use this skill, or be an artist, or love this, but I can try. I can push myself to finish something that’s difficult. If I can do this, I can look back and remember the feeling of overcoming an obstacle. I also loved how you introduced the philosophy of the Renaissance especially showing us that video on The School of Athens by Raphael. I could only fully appreciate it only by trying it myself.”

I start to tear up. As a parent and mentor to several children, I don’t know half the time of what I am doing. Some days I have a general idea of what I think would be good to present and it flops and so I adjust the next day and go into that place of stillness and humility. That ability to change my own perspective about learning.

Yes, I am full of gratitude and appreciation for her observation and self-awareness. But I am emotional because I struggle with this all the time. I get questions about this from other parents, “When do I push and when do I let go?” I always say, “It depends. It depends on the child and your gut. It’s always different and a lot of the time I get it wrong.”

How do I know when I get it wrong? When I have a child screaming in my face, “I AM NOT MY SISTER!” There have been many public in-my-face screams over the years.

This happens a lot with different sisters like the time I wanted one to try soccer or be in an outdoor program in -40 degree weather or do trapeze or try watercolor painting or surf or do perspective drawing. And the most exhausting thing is that sometimes it’s just the wrong timing. So you keep trying, just in case. Just in case there is a breakthrough like this.

Frankly, if she came to me and had rational reasons for changing directions with what she was learning this month, I probably would have been ok with it. I am happy that they love learning. That was my goal all along for homeschooling. But this is something that I didn’t expect. The push was what she needed and I didn’t even push. She pushed herself because something came together for her that I could never have anticipated.

It’s still not “her” thing. But that’s not the point. The point is to not limit your experiences. And trying once for 10 minutes is not enough. Sometimes we quit just before the magic appears, right before you find the keys to castle and the drawbridge is lowered. Sometimes you have to return another time when you are ready.

This is the method to my madness. I am a paradox of a teacher. I am a teacher of contradictions. I am a parent who is flexible with fixed points of view.

And this is the greatest lesson that I teach.

Part Two tomorrow…

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