I’m Pretending You Asked, Issue 4

I got to be a part of a very interesting discussion in English class the other day. We had just finished reading the book “Heart of Darkness,” and some way or another, the idea was brought up that if writing is beautiful, it should be taught – regardless of its subject matter. I had a bit of a problem with this. Some other people in the class did too, and while they pontificated on it for the rest of the 30 minute discussion, I thought about a play I’d recently finished performing in: “Art,” by Yasmina Reza. The basic premise, for those who didn’t read it in ninth grade English, is that a man named Serge buys a $200,000 painting that’s white – completely white – and his friend named Mark calls him ridiculous because the painting is plain white and therefore not worth $200,000. They argue, yadah yadah, conflict ensues. Both of these things I’ve just written can boil down to one thing – what you consider beautiful. That poses me to ask the question: Who gets to decide what is beautiful and what isn’t?

Let’s just say it’s our English teachers. Or our math teachers. Or whoever teaches you about things. That makes sense – right? A teacher is a person you’ve agreed to learn from, so why can’t they also impose their standards of beauty on you? This may sound like I’m making fun of someone but honestly, I’m not. If you trust someone enough to teach you how to not only read but to instill in you a general competence, then you must trust them enough to tell you what art to like and what books to read. As students, we trust our educators to introduce us to a wide variety of subject matter so that we can open our eyes to the WHOLE world around us, not just the world that we go home to every day. Should it not be a teacher’s job to properly show their students everything they find beautiful in the world, big or small, and in doing that, instill visions of what their students see as beautiful. 

Wow. I really leaned into the ‘people are sheep and that’s ok’ POV for a moment there. I don’t know if you, the reader, know this but every single person including yourself is completely unique and literally has never existed before. You are the only person who ever has and ever will be you. Feel special? Good. Now, since you are the only person who has ever been you, you are the only person who REALLY knows you. Just like in the play “Art,” what one person finds beautiful, another person finds ugly! Like my dad always says, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Because every single person is different, there is no possible way to ‘teach’ or ‘impose’ beauty on a person. Beauty is individual. 

Well, this is the paragraph that I usually use as a synthesis paragraph. The problem is, I literally have no idea which side I side with. That’s like 78% of the reason why I wrote the column in the first place. Sure, I exaggerated a little bit but the point still stands: I have literally no idea what side I agree with. But honestly, I think that’s ok.