Paintings Without Frames, Living Without Games


“Near Eastern religions have a propensity for building massive temples and tombs and this tradition has been emulated by Christian tendencies to construct gigantic cathedrals. Temples, churches, and synagogues separate the faithful from the secular world and from the natural world as if religion needs to be isolated from the rest of human activities.” — Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion

“Apparently, according to the Smithsonian, the cave paintings in Sulawesi, Indonesia are as old as their counterparts in Europe. That begs the question of why none of the professors I’ve talked to at prestigious institutions mention them — except peripherally (if at all) — when they lecture on prehistoric art. That dynamic is an example of how the dominant culture guarantees that our Western perception remains intact.” — M. Foley, from a pamphlet on Imposing Our Western Outlook On Education

When I first viewed parietal art in person, the painted cave drawings on walls and ceilings struck me viscerally. The prehistoric products of wildly creative expression and bonding with the natural world ran through my blood and bones… as if they had been inside of me for tens of thousands of years.

That was when I was in my twenties, in the sixties in Europe. Lascaux was the place to go.

Thirty years later I had an epiphany respecting the artwork. One of my children asked me why the paintings had no frames around them. [Pause.] I couldn’t sleep for a week.

Let’s cut to the chase, though. There are no frames around cave paintings because the artists didn’t distinguish between their art and their lives. To have a frame around a painting is to say, in part, what’s inside the frame is a painting, what’s outside is not, and don’t you ever get the two mixed up!

It’s a form of labeling which separates one dimension of human activity from another. Like what’s done in schools, so-called educational institutions, including institutions of so-called higher education. And yet just about every youngster in our society is moving Heaven and Earth to get into such a setting… to get their passport to a better place in life. A college degree, they think, will do that for them,  help to make advancement and happiness more likely. That’s been an obsolete narrative for quite some time now.

But educational environments — to put it mildly — tend to separate learning segments from living, relaxing, etc. Just as the four walls of the typical classroom divides this space from that space, the learning that goes on in, say, Period One is distinguished very clearly from what’s deemed important and focused on in Period Six later in the day. When the final school bell rings one can sing what one sings when one is released from such spatial and temporal framing. Certainly, there will be no singing in any of the seven periods during the school day unless — maybe — one is taking Music during Period Three. See what I’m getting at?

The labeling and the firm distinctions not only don’t do us any good, they’re very dangerous. It’s like a kind of game playing is going on for the benefit of profiteers. We’re still running students through the same loops as we did when I first encountered the cave paintings over half-a-century ago. The artwork at El Castillo in northern Spain is dated to be 40,000 years old or so. But our present day school day is dealt with in a manner that can be said to be more dated than that. Certainly, it’s quite out-of-touch in the face of our collective crises. And if I have to spell out exactly what they are for you… well then, I’d say you’re not well-educated. Not aware of what’s coming down. Haven’t been paying attention above and beyond the tripe that’s trickled down from our mainstream media outlets.

The geometric distinctions that I referenced above when I addressed the business of how this and that classroom had boundaries has a parallel in the very city block that a given school sits on. This block is separated from that block by streets, as a rule. Cross here and you’re going there. And don’t ever get Broad Street confused with Main Street, okay? [Actually, no one asks anyone’s permission.]

I also alluded to “game playing” above. And it’s time we got down collectively with what’s really going on. With songbirds becoming extinct, there won’t be much to sing about in Period Three… if you’re even enrolled in such a class. From what I hear, there are lots of tears being shed nationwide over the arts being reduced or eliminated from the educational menu. So-called utilitarian options are all that remain in many quarters. Representing the practical point of view.

Well, there’s a new kid on the block. One who sees through the game playing on the toxic board, where unevenness prevails to the advantage of the powers that be. Which includes, in case you haven’t noticed, the middle management demographic we call teachers. In the vast majority of cases. There’s too often not much difference between those who are raising tuition without a conscience and their underlings under such financial pressures that they feel they must align themselves properly. Acting a designated role without stepping outside of the proverbial box.

Education ‘cross the board, along with our mainstream media outlets (and many so-called alternative media outlets), are making basket cases out of our robotic youth.

A new paradigm for education must be embraced. One that does not — consciously or unconsciously — feed our horrid momentum. One which does not guarantee our going over the precipice together. One which does deal with the basics which citizens must learn, but that also acknowledges — in action — the need to step outside of the geometric parameters imposed on everyone, and blend what’s inside the classroom with what’s going on outside.

With a sense of urgency. Not with the pace of an arthritic snail that says to kids… “Hey, we’re going to pick up plastic this week on the beach. Want to join us?”

More plastic has been produced in the last ten years than was produced in the past century. And the production of plastic proliferates still. If you keep in mind that our collective crises involve much more than the abomination represented by plastic, you’ll begin to see the challenge that educators face. It’s one that is not acknowledged at present anywhere in the U.S.A. that I know of.

It’s the challenge of how to not churn out plastic children who will play in a wasteland. How to do that without losing your job in public schools, or how to not have enrollment drop in your private sector quarters.

We should be able to play games in schools. Everywhere. But we must stop playing unhealthy games inside and outside of school. Like Head in the Sandbox. If you can see those injunctions not as my framing anything, I think you’ll get the picture I’m trying to paint for one and all.

Annapurna Tosca Sriramarcel is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]


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