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A simple recipe for meaningful relations: In colours of Impressionism and Expressionism

By Joanna Kats

September month, known for the International Fair in Thessaloniki, welcoming visitors from all over the world and signalling the start of the new school year. The time has come for students to return to studying and teachers to educating. But first to get a new school bag, one more notebook or a large diary to turn into action plans and goals for the new school year.

Somewhere in my neighbourhood, I am about to buy notebooks, one for each project I intend to carry out. I will probably need quite a few notebooks this year. I am impressed with the variety of designs and colours around me. There are notebook covers resembling paintings and diaries resembling picture storybooks. As I am wondering around the place, I remember the year I was teaching at an initial vocational institute, discussing painting with the students. It was about Impressionism and Expressionism. It was a good year.

Well, I had always appreciated painting. As a school kid, I used to paint. In fact, I had developed my own style. So I wish to remember! And I had always confused Impressionism for Expressionism. I would learn the difference between them the year I started teaching English to student cooks at a state vocational institute. There would be one more thing that I would learn, concerning relations with others.

The student cooks: Different starting point and common destination

I had limited teaching experience at vocational institutes when I started working with that particular group of students. I was certain that they could read anxiety on my face. Our lessons would be held in a traditional class, with a blackboard and chalk. As I was reading education books highlighting the importance of the environment and technology in learning, I would wonder how I could retain any interest in our lessons in a class without a computer, a projector and slides. I couldn’t see how I could possibly implement what I had been reading, and put an end to anxiety.

Some of the students were professional cooks interested in having their work experience accredited. They had practical knowledge and pleasures of cooking and wanted to frame that by theory. Some were looking for a new professional career, using more of their talents. They may have studied a different subject, in Greece or abroad, and could see that it didn’t suit them anymore. Though they had different starting points and different experiences, they shared the intention to prepare for a significant change in their life. In that class, we all appreciated each other’s efforts to create a base for our dreams and expectations from life.

Pleasures of painting and communication

Around that time, I remembered how much I enjoyed painting. I would illustrate the cover of the materials for our lessons. I would select photos of paintings available online which would have a story to tell (never forgetting copyright!). I would usually select essential Impressionist paintings, with Expressionist painting as an alternative option. Monet and his landscapes, Degas and his ballerinas as well as Kandinsky and the spiritual would find their own place in our lessons.

The student cooks would respond in a positive manner. We would have interesting discussions over the illustrated covers, with all students making contributions equally valued. Like everyone else, they were waiting for the opportunity to express thoughts, concerns and interests in bloom. They were waiting for the right moment. After all, cooking is a form of art which demands the ability to discern and appreciate beauty, as when serving a fine meal.

The first impression and the deeper feeling

During our discussions, I would understand that I was still confusing Impressionism for Expressionism. For some reason, I thought that there wasn’t much I could do about that. How lucky I was to be part of a group that viewed the class as the place to learn through exchanging experiences. That would be the essence of adult education. Long before action research was established as a learning tool in adult education (in Greece), we piloted it effectively. We collected texts and photos of both Impressionist and Expressionist paintings and discussed the differences between them.

The discussion was coordinated by a student with a great understanding and appreciation of painting. He had studied abroad, in a country known for its love for the arts; a poor country with rich culture. Thanks to that student we all learned that if Impressionism is about the first impression and the first response to what we see around us, Expressionism is the thought that follows and the deeper feeling. This explains why Impressionist painters favour brighter colours and Expressionists darker shades…

Celebrating uniqueness

Christmas was being around the corner so we decided to put together a small party – a group gathering. We did enjoy learning from each other and that was a good reason to celebrate! There was a task for all participants, a task adding to creativity.

The party day arrived and the desk turned into a buffet: a tablecloth, napkins, a feast of flavours and aromas. What the cooks had prepared was in bright colours, combined in harmony. We all favoured Impressionism. In between, there was a card – my contribution to the celebration. In the background, there were colourful wishes. Around the buffet, there was a friendly and ever-growing group of people. You see, the celebration was open to all in the institute who wished to share the festive mood. It turned out to be a good number of people.

On that day, we all enjoyed ourselves – we as a team and our visitors. In that traditional class, defined by the blackboard and chalk, there was a place for everyone and everything: dreams and expectations; anxieties and worries; knowledge and experience.

Learning the difference between Impressionism and Expressionism meant essentially learning what it takes to have meaningful communication with others. It became clear that the main “ingredient” for meaningful relations with others is the ability to recognise and appreciate the starting point and the destination of each individual; to celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. That is a simple recipe tested!

Have a creative week!

A blogger friend, Joanna

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