The last time I lived in a city I was in art school, had no need for reading glasses and wasn’t yet a mother. Life looked very different. I have been living in rural Western Massachusetts since then and have gotten accustomed to life in the Berkshires. I appreciate a lot of things about where I live: the natural beauty, the familial surroundings and the lack of traffic from Monday through Thursday. I have a neighbor who uses his snow blower to help us out of our driveway in storms and in turn we bake him cookies. The towns that surround me are quaint and there are a lot of good people there. In the school that I teach in, many of my students have been together in the same building since they were 2 months old and they will stay together, in the same building until they graduate. Their experience in school, like in the towns they are growing up in is starkly different than their peers living in other areas. Living in a rural town inherently means one is exposed to less. Quite literally, the daily visual stimuli is considerably reduced, for better or worse (depending on who you ask).
I have only been in Edinburgh for 2 weeks but already I feel the intense difference between living in an urban area and living in the Berkshires. Like my previous instance living in a city, I walk everywhere. I have replaced my 35 minute drive to work (45+ during tourist season) with a brisk 15 minute trek to drop the kids off and another mile or so to my office or meeting space. During these walks I listen to TED talks or audio books or take my headphones off to hear conversations around me. I look up at the architecture, consider the thousands of restaurants, and avoid being hit by buses. My eyes are never not moving around, searching for something new to see and my imagination is working right alongside them making up stories or creating a history of the scene laying before me. An abandoned glove might become a story about a restless dog owner who in taking his glove off to dispose of his dog’s leavings let it fall to the ground as the dog pulled him along to chase after a beautiful looking poodle. There is inspiration all around me all of the time. If I have an open schedule I can drop into a museum (which are mostly all free here) or check out a centuries-old building, or greet a stranger at a crosswalk. It being a city, I will not know this stranger and I might strike up a conversation about pigeons. The daily commute alone is a shining example of the world of difference in living in a rural vs. Urban area.
Though my ride to work at home is often beautiful, it is relatively the same each day. Sometimes the fog would drift in and the small mountains would look rather majestic, but it is a scene I have witnessed many times in the past 14 years. There’s a monotony to rural life that although often welcomed (and romanticized by movies about people leaving the big city and finding love in the simple life) can be a limiting factor to what one is exposed to. Like my drive to work, students ride on buses or cars on the same few roads each day. They view beautiful landscapes or visions of quaint town life through the blur of a moving window. I believe it to be quite a challenge to notice and appreciate subtly inspiring details of a voyage while moving 40 miles per hour. So I dare to suggest that students in rural areas, or at the very least, students who live in non-walkable areas are exposed to less stimuli and thus less creative motivation.
f my assumption is correct, teaching art (and dare I say teaching anything) in rural communities bears the additional responsibility of guiding students through the process of finding inspiration in the most cleverly hidden spots. Visual stimulation is far more conservative in the country and students might have to work a little harder to break the monotony of rural living.
While it may seem backwards, I can’t think of a better place to think about rural education than a walk-able city such as Edinburgh. So for the next 2.5 months, I will spend my time walking in this wonderful city, being inspired by the subtle details and thinking about rural art education and how we can shape rural communities to offer as much creativity as that of its urban neighbors.