Superintendent’s Corner: Starting with a Blank Canvas

Brushes and painted canvas

One of my favorite works of art is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. The painting, hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago, was created over two years from 1884 to 1886 in an original style of art Seurat called chromo-luminarism, but now we know as Pointillism. A Sunday Afternoon is a 7’ x 10’ study of light and color theory, made of thousands upon thousands of tiny brush strokes, really just dots of color. Placed purposefully, scientifically, near other dots, our eyes perceive different colors and shades because of how they interpret the color’s contrasting hues. Seurat’s work is more than a masterpiece, more than genius, it is immediately recognizable as one of the greatest achievements of human creativity. Yet, when first on display, it was so unexpected it was not well received by the art community.

This fall we have the opportunity to start with a blank canvas of work, school, and life. There are strange contrasts between the routines of ‘back to school’ and the reality that back to school has never looked like this. I find myself longing for the ordinary. I look back to simple things like seeing my friends faces and hearing their real voices with tremendous nostalgia. I miss the rituals of every day and the unexpected interruptions of chance encounters. I worry about the learning of our children and students, and how their lives are disrupted. I am anxious about their well-being, their emotional health, and their futures.

While for a time our lives will remain disrupted, we have the opportunity to thoughtfully and intentionally place our dots onto the canvas of the lives of others. Our small contributions of connections with students and encouragement of colleagues can blend to form something unexpected and amazing. While the form of our work has changed, the nature of our work has not. We work, every day, every moment, to make a positive difference in lives. As a community, as educators, we place a few dots on canvasses and trust that the result will be well received one day.

A Lazy Sunday Afternoon captured a moment of ordinary life, rich with story and symbolism. For over a century its meaning has been debated, and like all good art, remains a bit of a mystery. The 25 year-old artist forever changed the direction of impressionist art. A Lazy Sunday Afternoon, to me, is a metaphor for life. The dots of color that are the countless moments of our lives create the picture that is our story. Filled with light or shadow, focused or abstract, life is both ordinary and extraordinary, and while we may not see the masterpiece (yet), we all remain a work in progress.

Dr. Dana Anderson

Superintendent, Capital Region ESD 113