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Writing is art.

Art is freedom. Art is expression. Art is powerful. When I was in school, I thought art was for the super talented, super creative people who were good at drawing and painting. I definitely was not one of those people. I could barely draw a straight line with a ruler. The only C I got in high school was in my Art for Beginners class (and yeah, I’m still a little bitter about that). But the thing I could always do well was write. Give me essay questions over multiple choice any day!Т 

What I didn’t realize until much later in life is that writing is art. The freedom of arranging words into sentences and paragraphs to affect the meaning of the words themselves is nothing if not creative. It takes precision to craft the perfect sentence, paragraph, essay, story—the possibilities are limitless. Writing allows both the creator and the reader to experience something in a new way. It gives power to the craftsman to express things that might otherwise go unsaid, unheard. It empowers those who read the words with new ideas, new images, new notions. Writing is all of these things and writing is art.

I wish I would have had a teacher who would have told me this when I was in school. Writing was (and in many schools, still is) taught as an academic tool, as part of an English curriculum or as a way to test what you have learned in other subjects. It is not taught as an art form that can be used to express frustration, beauty, cynicism, or any myriad thoughts and feelings we have as human beings. It is relegated to the 5-paragraph essay in English class that no one wants to write (or read), the final assessment of your knowledge on the war of 1812, or the thing you have to do get extra credit in the class that’s bringing down your GPA. Is it any wonder most students hate writing?

When my students experienced Jenny Holzer’s work at the Wexner Center for the Arts, they saw the art of writing. It was powerful for them. It was powerful for me. They witnessed the power of writing. They saw the freedom that words offer. They thought about the way the words were arranged on the walls and how the arrangement affected their meaning. They experienced her expression of self, of frustration, of thought, of life. It was a beautiful exchange.

Two days later in my classroom I gave these students the opportunity to create their own art in my English classroom. Using the materials readily available in any ELA classroom, I asked them to craft their own inflammatory essays. Using the same structure Holzer uses in hers, I asked them to express themselves using words. And they did! They embraced this process with passion, with fervor. I have encouraged them to treat writing as an art form before, but it never sunk in. They always reverted back to seeing writing as something they had to do in school. But after seeing it as art in a museum, they finally understood what I was getting at.

Writing is freedom. Writing is expression. Writing is powerful. Writing is art. And now my students know.

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