I’ve been watching Civilisations, a lush BBC series about how art has shaped the human experience. In an episode on Japan, the viewer is introduced to Maruyama Okyo’s masterpiece from the late 18th century – Cracked Ice – a painted two-fold screen ostensibly intended for tea ceremonies. Its format and minimalism seem characteristically Japanese and yet elements such as the use of perspective and a vanishing point show the influence of the West. I reflected on this in the context of my teaching. I get very excited by ideas I encounter. I want to try everything but this sometimes results in overstuffed lessons and more critically, a strange pastiche that doesn’t really give learners a cohesive learning experience. As I acquire and adapt ideas and tools, I need to learn to pare back like Okyo and focus on what’s really important and let innovation emerge from what I haven’t articulated in my lesson plan, those blank spaces I rush to fill.
Image attribution: Maruyama Okyo, Cracked ice, a 2-fold screen painting | British Museum | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0