Yesterday, in a creative session at work, we were asked to think about something which inspired us when we were at school. I remembered my first English lesson at secondary school, when Mrs Ashworth asked us to look at the table at the front of the room and then to draw it. ‘Don’t draw what you think a table should look like,’ she said. ‘Don’t draw your idea of the table. Just draw exactly what the table looks like to you from where you’re sitting. Just draw exactly what you see.’
I remember my table didn’t look like a table. It only had three legs, because I could only see three legs. It didn’t even have a top because I, being eleven, and tiny, couldn’t even see the top from where I was sitting. I remember it felt wrong to draw something which didn’t look like the thing it was supposed to be. Maybe it felt wrong, too, to expose in this way the limits of what my eyes could see.
At the end of the lesson, we all showed our drawings. Although we’d all been looking at the same table, there were 35 completely unique tables, none of them looking much like the one we’d been trying to represent. We all laughed.
I had the feeling that I’d learned something important, but it took me years to figure out exactly what Mrs Ashworth had given us and why. She’d given us perspective, agency, and an understanding of our subjective experience. She’d given us a tool with which to negotiate our relationship to the table, the truth, the world.