Art School Teacher: Stumbling Upon Nicolas Lampert

It just happens to be that I come across an announcement and so go to see Nicolas Lampert talk about guerrilla art - Jesse Graves and his mud stencils and the People's Climate March, and the Tamms Prison project, and the role that art plays in propelling social protest movements.

I go home all fired up spouting to the kids as I serve up the soup, that in the next 100 years there are going to be massive migrations north, as the Earth dries.  My 14 year old year argues that he knows for a fact a drier climate is not a 100 years away, but a million.  Plus it doesn't matter because everywhere there's deserts now, will turn into lush forest, he says.  I start to argue with him but quickly grow dejected after my older daughter chimes in that even if it is 100 years off, it doesn't matter because we won't be around anyway.

I hang my head, ashamed of myself and our disposable culture, and we finish our dinner in silence. Finally my younger daughter asks if I am sad. Well, yes I am.  Sad and disappointed in my parenting, that I have not taught my children how to sit together and have a serious discussion about important ideas.  I'm sad that our discussion of climate change is an insurmountable argument before even beginning.

My younger daughter asks, "What's climate change?" and I am about to sigh and say, it's really complicated.  But last week, when the same daughter asked me why I don't like Donald Trump, I found that I did not have a coherent answer, though I felt a visceral anger.  I know why I don't like Donald Trump.  But I was tongue tied trying to explain why to my daughter.

If I only talk to others 
who feel the same way I do about Donald Trump, 
then we can speak in generalities 
and visceral reactions 
and be understood.  

And if that's the only language we use,
than a discussion with people who have different opinions
is only a battle of visceral reactions,
baring our teeth at each other and growling,
sending us deeper into language
that allows only monologue.

I majored in science and though I remember few specifics, what I do retain is how to think about systems and their intertwined complications.  So I find that I can explain climate change, about fossil fuels and pollution and my son clears his plate and leaves the room, followed by the older daughter. But the youngest stays, listening as I talk about greenhouse gases and rising temperatures and melting ice caps and rising sea levels and drying land and water becoming scarce and people migrating north. After a bit, with tears in her eyes, she asks "so that means we're all going to die?"

And my husband and I differ on this and if he would have been home, he would have put the kabosh on the whole thing from the beginning, since he spent his childhood hearing his parents fret about nuclear war and so has an aversion to doom and gloom.

I tell her the truth, which I've told her before.  We are all going to die. That's the nature of life.  But no, not right away.  Not for a very long time.  And it's hard to think about, yes.  But part of growing up is learning how to deal with difficult things.

Like being up in the night, thinking about difficult things, which I am.

And still the next day, there it is, so by the time I get to class, I can't think of anything else.  I ask the students, because I'm curious, "What do you know about climate change?"  That doesn't ring any bells, but global warming gets them talking (hesitantly) about melting polar ice caps and dying polar bears.

What effect does melting polar ice caps have on the rest of the world? 

What happens when the oceans rise?  

But none of these students have ever seen the ocean.  So we talk about coast lines and islands and how the Maldives are disappearing and how half of Florida could be underwater by the end of the century, like many coastal lands and islands all over the planet.

What happens to people who have been displaced by climate change?  

What causes people to leave their homes and go to a foreign land?  

Where are people fleeing today? 

Why the Syrians? 

Is it coincidence that there are so many conflicts in the same land that has so much oil?  

Who controls the oil?

What are the ties between our government and big oil industries?

What is Citizens United? 

What happens if suddenly, we have no more oil?  

What do we use oil for?

What is the cause of global warming?

What is the effect?

Jesse Graves mud stencil
I show them a picture of a Jesse Graves mud stencil and we talk about the power of the image.

And we watch this:

Video of Jesse Graves explaining his mud stencil technique.

I ask, "Should we try making our own mud stencil?"

They say, "Yes!"

Assignment:  Ponder.  What message is important enough to put in a public space?  What do you feel is sad and wrong?  What issues make you react most passionately?  How can you represent an idea as an image?

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