Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Now what?

In the morning’s aftermath of an election night that David Remnick aptly described as a tragedy, I find myself thinking of my favorite painting by Picasso, Guernica. The title refers to the horrific bombing by Nazis and Fascists in 1937 of a Basque town, and the painting features innocent women and children slain or screaming as if humankind itself were coming to an end. (For more on the historical background, read this). I first saw the painting as a child, when it came to New York, and remember at the time that my flute teacher, Florence Stern, who was very influential in my cultural upbringing, spoke of the barely visible flower in the bottom center of the painting. 

Hope, she said. He left a little trace of hope in the midst of all that horror and despair. The last time I saw the painting, I was in Madrid, and it has the most wonderful home in the Reina-Sofia. So now you are probably wondering what can art do for me in my current state of mind?

The thing is, I teach teachers. All through this campaign I have heard their fears and misgivings, the incredulity of how to explain to young people the things that so easily travel through airwaves, TV, paper headlines, and onto our devices that are perpetually in our hands. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse it did. Comparisons are being made to events in our past that are still beyond our comprehension. The urge to flee, to escape the daunting realities of our two political parties in complete disarray, our rich-poor, urban-rural, black-white, straight-gay glaring divisions, and our electoral map a sea of red and pink sandwiched between thin slices of blue, is stronger than ever. We all feel the democratic experiment is blowing up, and wonder how we can possibly find hope in the ruins.

Young people are our hope. If ever there were a time to argue for the importance of education, for upholding the values that have been the cornerstones of our still fragile democracy, it is now. We must all participate in teaching the young what it means to deliberate on problems and work together on solutions, how to compromise, listen, persuade, and compel people to take action that will improve lives and livelihoods. We have to be good role models for them, get off our devices and talk to them, get them to talk to each other, ask questions, investigate answers, and get creative. We need art. We need hope. Think of the flower. It is all about the flower.