Black Square by Kasimir Malevich
Creative Writing Assignment: Page 73. Go to an art museum and find a painting that is particularly evocative. Seated before it, write the story it suggests.
I know nothing about this artist. I am embarrassed. My students, surrounding me with expectant eyes, await my words of wisdom, my wealth of knowledge. I sigh. I’ll have to BS, I think. My synapses start frantically sparking, searching desperately for an explanation for this black square painted by someone with a foreign sounding name in 1916. That is all I know for sure. The chances of most of my students checking my facts are pretty much nil. I could tell them anything and even if they half listened, it wouldn’t matter to them at all. For these students, this field trip to the museum was just an excuse to get out of algebra for the day and to eat at the Varsity on the way back to school.
“I could do that, Ms. Allen. Anybody could do that.” Everybody laughed because Judd was the class clown in the first place, and they were all thinking it but hesitant to ask what the hell this museum was thinking when they paid apparently a great deal of money for a solid black canvas with a white frame edged in gold.
When I don’t know the answers and my synapses fail me, I ask a question. “If you did do that Judd, what grade to you think you’d get in my class?”
“You mean if I got it in on time?”
More giggles from the peanut gallery because we all knew Judd had never gotten anything in on time the entire year, and this was April.
“Yes, of course. What grade do you think you’d earn?”
“D minus! That painting is worthless. “
I turned to the class, “Do you agree with Judd? What do you think would cause someone to paint a solid black square with no other shapes, no light, no texture, no horizon, no color, no value changes?”
“No Hope!” came the answer from the back of the cluster of students. I stared at the boy standing silent and alone until now.
The students turned en masse. Jonathan had never spoken the entire year except to his parapro. He had never looked straight at me, let alone anyone in the class. As far as I could tell they had never looked at him either when they thought he saw them. Shocked and amazed at his insight and his urgency to share it, no one knew what to say.
But Judd–and this is why I love class clowns–Judd came to his vocal senses sooner that any of the rest of us. He stepped back beside Jonathan and gave him a fist-bump. “Genius, you’re a genius, Jon!” And this time Judd wasn’t clowning around. The class clapped–actually clapped–as though they’d witnessed a great performance. Maybe they had.
And then they all started at once.
“I get it!”
“That’s me after my chemistry test.”
“And me before the SAT.”
There was a change in the air after Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square. I didn’t have all the answers, but we all had lots of ideas. From that point on, the museum was not just a legal way of skipping school any more.
And for Jonathan it was a beam of light peaking through a big black square.