Ode to a Piece of Cardboard: or, A Philosophy of Life

by Sheila Finkelstein on December 8, 2010

Continuing to explore the background and commitment behind my upcoming Through and From The Lens telecourse, I’d like to share my ODE TO A PIECE OF CARDBOARD: or, A Philosophy of Life. On the course web page, I share the story of my being told to drop out of the college in which I had enrolled to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education. The just-retired art professor suggested I “join a local guild to satisfy [my] housewifely ambitions.”

I ignored the advice and went on to become a successful art teacher. And, as life will have it, I had an encounter one afternoon with a school principal.  I was on my way out and, as I passed her she commented that a bomb could go off in the shared closet where my supplies were stored and “no one would be any the worse for it.” I traveled from class to class on a small cart, teaching a variety of lessons daily to K through 6th graders. I thus stored a wide array of materials there.  Needless to say I got quite angry and wrote the following at every red light on my way to my graduate school class.

What’s a piece of cardboard?
It’s the base of a sculpture, or an
integral part of one.
It’s the support for an assemblage;
A cardboard loom for weaving.

It has form, or it is flat.
It’s a surface to work on–
To build a mask; to rest a tray as
plaster is poured;
To keep work safe, as it is moved from place to place.
It’s a support for the paper on which notes
are taken at a museum, on which observations
are drawn.

Skin it. See the corrugation.
Use it for line or texture in a collage.
Cut it with scissors.
Roll it.
Attach it.
Tape it. Glue it.
Build with it.
What more is it?

That is up to you.
You may make discoveries as yet unknown.
I am not the possessor of all knowledge,
all ideas.
I can be the source from which you can get help
to develop your own ideas, your
individuality, your uniqueness.
If I can, I will provide the materials that will
help you make your discoveries, to suggest
alternate possibilities if I can’t.
When you need it, I hope it is on hand.

All of my knowledge is available to you–
all of my expertise.

I hope that these experiences will help
you to use things frugally, with originality;
That sometimes when you are sparked
with an idea
You remember and are aware of potentials
and alternatives.

Pass a pebble, a rock, a shell, a leaf–
A new and different shape (real or in your mind)
Look at it. Touch it. Turn it over.
Return it to its home if you wish,
Or, let it send your mind and fingers flying
in a drawing or a painting.
Use it in a collage.

What’s a feather, a piece of cloth, a strange
shape, a can of nails, a box of scrap wood?

That’s up to you, my dear friend. . .
Up to you to collage your life a rich and vibrant one.

(c) 1977, 2002 Sheila Bakely Finkelstein

My point in including this story and “Ode” here is that, in life, we are often in what many of us feel are confrontational situations.  How we handle them makes all the difference in the quality of our lives.  Writing has often “saved” me and using the camera runs a close second.

In the Through and From the Lens telecourse, we get to stop and look, in new and different ways, at the “pebbles” we pass in life. We use the camera and some add writing, all in the process of getting unstuck, for those who are, and opening new paths of creativity. You are welcome to come play with us.

(If you are wondering what happened with the principal – The next morning I went into her office and put the typed poem on her desk. She never mentioned it, nor did she comment on my closet again.)

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