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Our World of Experiences

Poet David Whyte defines art as a "private understanding made communal."

"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 questions.

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 understandings.

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, it’s 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 alike.