I’m a theatre teacher, and the phrase “empty space” conjures images of Peter Brook’s famous book of the same title. But I’m not going to talk about that today. Rather, I’m going to talk about a metaphor I’ve been using lately to talk about curriculum and how we might think about curating it for our students as we plan lessons, units, courses, and programs.
Compare the two images below:
Now, I am not a visual artist or a curator, but I venture to say that the second image here engages the viewer in a very different way than the first. The first saturates us, and our eyes — while perhaps stimulated — don’t know where to go and so we cover a lot but we risk gaining very little depth. There is, in my thinking, no space around the images to guide our attention to what’s important, what’s representative. The second, on the other hand, uses the space around the paintings by Van Gogh to great advantage. It directs our attention to a thoughtful arrangement of representative work. It also, I think, leaves us wanting more.
As schools continue to wrestle with what and how to teach, I recommend that we consider the two images above and what this might suggest to us. Is it better to cram as much onto the wall as possible out of fear that we’ll miss something? Or is it better to let the space around carefully curated and representative pieces focus us on what can really move us, really transform us?
Before we react against the nothing that we think is not there, might we pause and consider the nothing that is?