Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!
Today our session had 18 participants from across the globe and included two new attendees to the Narrative Medicine virtual workshop sessions. We introduced the painting “School of Beauty, School of Culture” by Kerry James Marshall for 5 minutes of “close reading”. Participants were invited to first observe and then to take down some notes about what they were experiencing. The first discussion question asked, “As we enter this painting, where are we and what’s going on here?”
One participant said it was a place that celebrates the beauty of hair – its natural texture and color, which recalled government policies that seek to limit or protect the freedom of expression. There is a sense of community and enjoyment in the pursuit of this expression of confident beauty, and the painting sparks feelings of joy and community. Additional comments observed the festive colors and reflective light, evoking a party atmosphere with dancing. Others observed a portrait of Rosa Parks on the wall, as well as another poster that might be subverting the idea of what beauty is due to its exaggerated features.
A question arose about an object in the center lower half of the painting that looked like a bird, a spill of yellow color, oddly shaped and undefined. Someone thought it might be a blanket, perhaps dropped by one of the two children in the foreground, who are interacting with it. Or could it be a symbol of marketed beauty in the form of a “princess blanket” depicting a blonde haired, white-skinned fairytale girl? Or was it, in fact, a reflected image on the window of a white female outside on the sidewalk looking in and taking a photograph of the woman posing near the children? A flash bulb is reflected in an interior, background mirror. Another comment referenced the famous Holbein painting with a skull floating in the same foreground area that can be discerned if you were to tilt the painting at an angle; could this be a blond, women’s visage haunting this space? These observations suggested a more complicated, multi-layered story being portrayed. The sense of the interior community versus the exterior voyeuristic gaze of the observer was a provocative place to end our discussion.
Additionally, here is an annotated resource for the painting that illuminates many aspects of the painting.
Our writing prompt today was “write about the art of finding beauty”. Participants began sharing their writing, which focused on such themes as living up to beauty standards and questioning who sets them. We discussed finding beauty in ourselves, finally feeling like we are “enough” after being our own worst critics. One participant noted that beauty is an “introspective assignment” and a task we must all undertake for ourselves. Another participant reflected on an experience of finding beauty in a Japanese garden, where the quiet, calming beauty of the space revealed itself “like a haiku poem”. Finally, another participant reminded us that, if we look for it, beauty can be found all around us — “I promise.”
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!