The fall 2020 semester is over. I’d like to sum it up with something pithy and empathetic, but I’ve got nothing. At St. Norbert College, we made it the full semester in-person. Or a combination of in-person and zoom classes, synchronous and asynchronous, thriving (sort of) and barely-keeping-our-shit-together. I’m almost always proud of our students at the end of term, but this semester it’s that plus the feeling that I owe them big time.
They showed up! And they kept showing up, rolling with the weird changes, being gracious about my missteps, and taking the work seriously. I believe studio art classes always offer something different in the world of higher ed. We come together, we consider ideas and techniques, and then we make things, by hand, together in the same space. There is magic in that. Conversation, for sure, but also the transcendent feeling of losing yourself in carving linoleum, in hatching shadows, rearranging type, or whatever it is that week. We have all needed the distraction and flow of working by hand this semester.
I am grateful I get to do this work: to talk about art and design with curious smart people and to work alongside them in the studio. Their ideas and conversations expand my world and pull me from the cocoon of my own anxieties, habits, and chores. When I got some bad news this semester, my students anchored me with their compassion, tenderness, and shared struggles. I’m embarrassed to admit how much my own suffering reminded me that I’ll never know all that’s going on with students (or anyone!). That sometimes, the miracle is that we showed up at all and held it together for as long as we did.
Next semester, we get to do it all again: masked, socially distant, quarantining and isolating, seeing ourselves through the Zoom gaze. Now with the hope of a vaccine and the promise of the returning light and warmth. We’ve still got to pass through the long and dark part of winter. Plus the cold, dark spring in the midwest. But we’ll do it working together, if not in person, then in spirit. I’m reminded of the call at the end of services in the Episcopal church: Let us go out into the world rejoicing. Thanks be to God.