Endless Solutions through Metaphoric Self-Awareness

5/29/24

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned about my fellow human beings from being a teacher. Teaching has been one of my greatest continued educations. As we all know, life is full surprises, both good and sometimes not so good. We often find ourselves in life situations that seem to have no immediate solutions. Our sidekick, the ego, kicks in during these times, reminding us of all other moments of uncertainty. These emotions can easily affect the course of our days, particularly in the context of attending school or going to our jobs. We can become aware of this behaviorally, but controlling it initially isn’t easy. I decided to reflect on this idea and see how it applies to me and my everyday life. You can soon do the same; please read on.

This semester officially concludes my 21st (and a half) year of college-level teaching. I am blessed and grateful to have so many continued teaching opportunities simultaneously between four colleges/universities here in NYC. As an Art and Design professor, I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in studio art, illustration, design thinking, graphic design, animation, computer graphics, communications technology and basic web design. I also teach several other digital art fusion and hybrid-related courses (more on this soon). Reflecting on this consistent teaching time induced a deeper need for contemplation. I scheduled an appointment with myself—seriously, I put a day and time on my calendar to simply be with this energy and write down some notes. Looking through my past calendars, I began experiencing some thoughts. Through teaching at this level, I’ve had a platform to create new courses, develop curriculum, publish content, install and generate archival course websites, experiment with new technologies, work with amazing people, share my passions, create exhibitions, and more. A lot happens over the course of 21.5 years. I could have never imagined what I would have learned and experienced when I first signed up. Something else occurred to me in this thinking/reflection space.

Stillness = Clarity

In my quiet reflection space, I had a moment of utter clarity—an epiphany! It even required a bit of math. I currently teach between 5 and 6 courses each semester (but for 19 of these years it was more like 8-9 and 3 or 4 over the summers and winter terms). I have mellowed on that a bit, but that’s still about 15 courses per year on average. Most classes have between 12 and 21 students per course, with most having over 15. On average, let’s say I have about 220 students per year. Multiplying 220 students per year by 21.5 years of teaching, that’s a total of 4,730 college students I’ve had in my classes over my teaching career thus far. This doesn’t count private teaching, high school residencies, workshops, and other teaching-related activities…

On average, each of my classes completes between 4-7 individual projects per course. This means each student generates something tangible in each of my courses. These could be drawings, prints, collage works, sculptures, digital art, graphic design production, logos, websites, photography, web pages, blogs, GIF animations, video artworks, and various forms of writing and visual presentations. If you multiply 220 people per year generating multiple variations of the same project curriculum and principles—especially at the foundational level where students learn basic skills for intermediate-level art classes—no two students ever show the exact same way to understand and execute this process in a tangible form. This expands into variations, upon variations.. literally..

Thousands of them..

This isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I face unlimited variations of creativity every single day. Keep in mind, a basic positive and negative space assignment is just one out of the 4-7 projects each class works on. Even at the lowest number, if 220 students complete a minimum of 4 projects per year (fall, spring & summer/winter terms), that’s 880 different examples of executing the projects that I observe from start to finish. This doesn’t even account for the critique dialogs about the works in a presentation format. Using the lowest number of projects as an example, if we multiply the estimated lowest number (4 projects at 880 examples per year) by 21.5 years, I have witnessed over 18,920 examples and variations of how these projects can potentially be executed. How can the human brain process this number and amount of awesome creative energetic variation?

When I think about this in this particular context, it becomes a great metaphor.

The metaphor is indeed a spiritual one. It becomes “Meta” because it goes beyond my comprehension of something that I thought I had an awareness of. When we look up into the sky, we can physically see the incredible vastness of it, but at some point, we realize there is no beginning or end—it simply continues beyond what we can see. You may even take it for granted unconsciously because it is so vast. Here I am, pondering my relationship to this idea. Over 18,920 examples of creative ingenuity presented to me by my students so far (again, this is the lowest outcome based on minimum numbers). It is another amazing metaphoric awareness for me to take a step back and realize not only my own potentials but the creative human potential in general.

How can we put this to the test and apply it to solving basic life-related issues?

I see amazing variations and solutions to the same series of project expectations year after year, student after student. There is only an abundance of variety. I can only say, things can always, always, always be another way. Indeed, sometimes we may find ourselves in life situations that seem to have no immediate solutions at first, but is this really the case? In what ways are you experiencing something similar to my experience? Are you willing to take a step back to reflect upon your everyday occurrences to find deeper meaning? What is your world showing you each day that you may be missing? The days are speaking to us whether we are aware of them or not.

I will share this story and awareness at the beginning of each class that I teach now. How can I not?

How have your own life experiences generated similar evidence? I want you to share them here.

Check out more posts like this on https://ryanseslow.com