“Show it to us!!” yelled several students, as they thrust their eyes forward towards a blank projector screen.
These second graders were super-eager to see the artwork… and even more so than usual. It surprised me. I didn’t think I’d done a great job of building up the anticipation. But looking back at why they were so excited, it makes total sense… and reminded me of the Ancient Greeks response to theater.
The class was going to see their sixth painting of the year, and before showing it to them I tried to prepare them for what was going to be different with this one. The first thing I said was that it was not going to have a story of knights and princesses, and was going to look more like it was set in our time—I heard several groans of disappointment (they’ve been enjoying paintings of Arthurian legends). The second thing I told them was that this painting was going to have more than the two or three characters they’d been used to. It was going to have about 30! The room filled with gasps of incredulity and then demanding calls to start the show.
“It’s strange what kids will get excited about,” I told my colleague after class. I just chalked it up to kids being amazed by the simplest of things. But then the development of Greek tragedy flashed into my mind.
The Ancient Greeks invented theater by creating the first actor. Stories weren’t just simply told, someone took the role of one of the characters. Then Aeschylus added a second character to interact with the first, and Sophocles added a third! As drama became more sophisticated, Ancient Greek audiences were thrilled by each innovation! I remember teaching this history of drama to my 8th graders last year, who thought the Greeks silly, a little like I thought the second graders silly.
But neither the Greeks’ experience nor my second graders’ was silly.
My second graders had been experiencing the drama of art for the first time and loving it. And in this class, they, like the Ancient Greeks, were experiencing the thrill at seeing more sophisticated developments in art.