This week, a friend of mine who works as an admissions manager in an international school in Brazil wrote to let me know that she had enrolled in an art appreciation course as part of her professional development.
I was intrigued, so set up a call to find out more.
It’s all to do with semiotic analysis, she explained. In order to be able to interpret or appreciate a work of art effectively, I need to have a level of understanding to know what even to look for. And I’m convinced that it’s the same with admissions, as I try to connect with the families visiting my school.
At the end of the conversation, I found myself thinking back to Alain de Botton’s book, Art as Therapy, published back in 2013.
Walking into The Frick in New York’s Upper East Side, de Botton once said, “Just look around. No one’s got a clue what they’re supported to be doing!” His point was simple: museums do very little to foster any kind of personal connection between a visitor and the Masterpieces. Facts or pieces of information on plaques next to a work of art, he says, don’t help either. And that’s why the majority of visitors end up rushing through a gallery, emotionally disengaged, and ultimately unmoved.
Back to school and I find myself wondering whether there are, indeed, lessons to be learned here. Might it be the case that all of us in the field of admissions could benefit from learning the art of art appreciation?
The parallels are certainly worth exploring. Here are three to get the conversation going.
The art of paying close attention: It goes without saying that you can’t understand a painting if you don’t give it the time that it deserves. Attention, in this respect, is a gift and an acknowledgement of the other. In Simone Weil’s immortal words, Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. Sometimes I find myself wondering about the systems and structures that deprive families of the prerequisite of personalised attention.
The art of noticing what is in the picture and what is not: If you live with a painting for long enough, you start to notice details that were overlooked at first glance. You also start to notice what the artist chose not to paint and the details that were glossed over or written out of the story. Effective admissions, we know, demands that we notice what is being said and what is not said; what’s front and centre and what is hiding between the lines.
The art of uncovering the deeper questions: In the end, de Botton is convinced that great paintings connect us all to deeper, universal questions about life and how to successfully navigate our way through it. For me at least, this is again a reminder that behind every family are a set of universal questions that all parents find themselves wondering: Will my child fit in? Will my child be safe? Will my child make friends? Will my child transfer on successfully to the next stage of their learning journey? Effective admissions will always listen attentively for these deep questions and address them, rather than reducing the experience to a deluge of facts and information.
Henry David Thoreau once said, It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. Learning to “see” is perhaps the noblest form of admissions that we can attain.
So it may just be worth taking that trip to the museum, next time we have the chance.