David Whyte defines art as a "private understanding made
"Private understanding" is just that sensory experiences,
thoughts and feelings unique to the individual. This is
the "no two people are alike" part, the part that makes
up who we are.
Our private understanding shapes our unique vision. There
is no way to fail at having experiences and sensations.
"... made communal" refers to the language that allows
us to communicate. How we share our vision or truth with
others depends on the languages we have been taught and
what comes naturally to us.
Words, spoken or written on a page. Storytelling. Dance
or mime. The visual elements used in painting, drawing,
graphic design or sculpture. Music. This part requires
labor, action and time. It has a learning curve.
The following exercise uses awareness of authentic individual
sensory experiences as a means of recognizing differences.
This exercise is for your benefit as a teacher. You can
decide if you wish to use it with the children in your
classroom. However, I suggest you complete it before sharing
it with your class.
Everyone Has Sensory Experiences
Using a pencil, draw a large circle on a 12" x 18" piece
of paper, letting the line hit the outside edge of the
paper. This will represent one small part of your "world
of experiences." Write out answers to the
This is not a test. There are no wrong answers. The circle
is private and need not be shown to anyone. It can even
be destroyed when the exercise is finished.
Read the questions slowly, taking time to respond.
Once you have completed the questions, you will have
inside the circle a sampling of your experiences and private
These could be a source of inspiration for you in the
arts. If you wanted to share one of these experiences,
how would you do that? What skills would you draw on?
What language would you use? What comes naturally to you?
Speaking, writing, dancing? Would you sing a song or act
out a mime?
Now that you have your circle, its not hard to
imagine if there were ten people, each one from a different
country, all a different age, together in the same room,
we would find some ways we are alike our universal
experiences. For example, everyone has a circle.
Everyone has sensory experiences: seeing, tasting, smelling,
hearing, touching. People they love (friends, mothers,
fathers, siblings). All experience anger. All have experienced
pain or fear or death. All have firsts and lasts.
We may not be able to identify them, but all of us live
by rules. And all would be looking for a language natural
to them, through which to communicate their experiences
because the need to communicate is another experience
we share with people all over the world.
Looking at your own circle, it's also not hard to imagine
that even if all ten people were of the same race, sex
and education from the same town or lived on the
same street, lived in the same house there would
be ten completely different circles and no two would be