Look at this fantastic work, The Sower, by Van Gogh, painted in 1888. Give your eyes time to move and rest on details. As you do this, pay attention to your reactions to what you see. Note the thoughts, emotions and feelings that arise inside you.
Are you startled by the richness of the sun or do your fingers itch to trace its grooves? Does your mind imagine hearing the sower’s feet pressing into the earth? Who is the sower and what is his story?
When we tune in to an experience with art like this one, we learn a new way to talk with children about empathy. I think that one of the best reasons to use art is to build understanding and strong connections to humankind. Learning to see and experience through new eyes—or the eyes of another—challenges our minds to grow.
Education philosopher Maxine Greene urges us to realize that understanding art through experience is an essential part of every child’s education. I agree. Whenever I think about the history of human civilization, art and empathy appear together as the deepest elements of our story, as deep as the grooves on Van Gogh’s radiant sun.