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CDL Digest

This week I went to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience and came away with several new pieces of learning about the artist and a renewed appreciation for the artistic process. I pondered what might be learned from the life of van Gogh and wondered what about his art so deeply resonates with so many. He created over 2000 paintings in his short lifetime and in the last 10 years of his life created at the rate of one painting per 36 hours! I really loved the quote below displayed over his famous painting Wheatfield with Crows.

Wheatfield with Crows

A display commentary on the two paintings below suggested that the harbor picture presented Van Gogh's fascination with the accomplishments of man represented by the larger view of the harbor lights reflecting on the water and the village ablaze with lights. His most famous painting, Starry Night, was painted later nearer the end of his life and perhaps reflects how the eternal and heavenly has overwhelmed the things of this world. The darkness in the town is punctuated by a few lights from homes, but overwhelmed by the celestial spectacle.

Starry Night Over the Rhone

Starry Night

It was also fascinating to learn that Van Gogh suffered from color blindness - he saw colors as duller than how they are in real life, so that may partially explain why he used such brilliant colors and particularly loved yellow. His limitation contributed to his ultimately blessing mankind through his representations of created beauty!

Quotes by van Gogh to ponder (from

  1. There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

  2. Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

  3. The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.

  4. I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.

  5. Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.

  6. If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.

  7. In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, skepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.

  8. I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God's help I shall succeed.

  9. I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.

  10. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

What quote do you most resonate with and why?

Today I also share with you some thoughts on the artistic process by my dear friend and CDL co-chair, Steven Levy. This blog was originally published on the CACE blog on May 8, 2017, but some of you might have missed it! :)

Deeper Understanding Through Art: The 'Word' in 'Flesh'

When I was in the classroom I liked to challenge students to create images to represent an idea. Equally challenging, to look at images and infer the ideas they represented. Class discussions (remember to use protocols!) often yielded a deeper, nuanced understanding by thinking in pictures and picturing thoughts.

Adults too! I participated in a workshop with a group of teachers where we explored the ten design principles of EL Education. Our small group focused on one called Solitude and Reflection. We were equipped with construction paper, scissors, crayons, glue and tape, and instructed to create a piece of art that represented Solitude and Reflection. Overcoming the initial skepticism and predictable superficiality, we accepted the challenge.

We began sharing individual thoughts, listening for a common organizing principle. We visualized Solitude and Reflection from many points of view, pushing and challenging each other’s perspectives as we strove to create an image together. What was the form of solitude? Of reflection? What shape was it? What color? What led to it? What followed from it? How could we represent it with the materials we had?

Sometimes our thoughts were aligned. Other times they were opposed. Our ideas were not judged right or wrong, but rather scrutinized according to the common understanding that was emerging out of our collective experience. (In a Christian setting, the Word of God would provide an additional plumbline). When the rationale for a form or color was consistent with our experience, everyone shouted, “Yeah, that’s it!” If it was not, we explored what was different or incomplete, and further refined our collective construction. We learned as much from the images we discarded as the ones we chose. And throughout, collaborated to create something bigger and deeper than any of our individual imaginations.

For example, one of the teachers said, “I think it should be blue.” “Why blue?” we asked. “Because blue is cool and reflective, unlike red which is hot and active.” “Right!” we all echoed and began to work with the blue construction paper. “What shape should it be?” I asked. “It could be a square,” said one teacher. “Why?” “I don’t know, it just feels square to me, like being in a room.” “No,” another said, “I think it should be round.” “Why round?” “Because it has no beginning or end. It just goes round and round, back to the same place.” “Does it really come back to the same place? Are you at the same place after reflection as you were before you started?” “Well, not exactly.” “How about a spiral?” someone else suggested. “Yeah, a spiral has the qualities of the circle, but ends up in a different place than where it began.” “Yeah, that’s it!” we all agreed, and began to shape the spiral out of the blue paper. “Wait a minute,” someone wondered, “Is the spiral the reflection itself, or is it the thoughts that come out of reflection? What if we make reflection a blue circle and then have thoughts coming out of it in a spiral form?” “What would the thoughts look like?” “At first they would be crude, unformed, and then as they progress along the spiral they take more and more shape.” “Cool!” said the teacher from California.

We began to work on shaping the thoughts. “What shape should the final thought be?” “I don’t know, but it should represent all complete thoughts, not just one particular idea.” “How about a light bulb?” “That’s it,” cried some. “Too trite,” protested others. “It should be a shape that represents a finished thought.” “How about a star?” “Yeah, a star!” Long threads of different colored paper, some twisted, some curled, emerged from the deep blue. They gradually began to take form, and finally became a star at the end of the spiral. “The blue needs to be covered,” someone says. “It is too exposed. A person needs protection from outside distractions to really enter into solitude and reflection.” Someone fashions a tent over the blue reflective space. Another plants a rough human form inside. “Shall she have a body or just a head?” “Body, but no hands. Hands represent activity. The hands must be kept outside the tent, or they will tempt Solitude and Reflection to get busy and do all the stuff that has to be done.” Two roughly shaped hands, that looked as much like prayer wings, were glued to the top of the tent.

The artistic process had stimulated unusually thoughtful reflection. Our individual ideas were sharpened and refined by a collective meaning that seemed to flow through our discussion. Struggling to represent an idea with form and color helped us to discern the heart of the concept and all its subtle veins and arteries. What pushed our understanding was the continual stream of good questions. Why…? What if…? If that were true, what about…? How does that fit with what we said before? The questions were the catalyst that steered us to deeper meaning and guided the design of the image we constructed.

This workshop occurred in a public school, but as I reflect (in solitude), manifestation of biblical principles were there in two dimensions (even as God is always present whether we recognize it or not). First, the task of representing an idea with color and form seems to reflect the preeminent foundation of our faith – the Word became flesh (John 1:14). Is it too much to suggest that representing an idea, a concept (logos) with substance, color and form (flesh) is analogous? In the same way we come to know God through Jesus, we come to know an idea through representing it in earthly substance. This is one reason the arts are such an essential component of education. Second, we could not have developed the understanding we did alone. (Where two or three are gathered…Matthew 18:20). In the same way one brings a song, another a word, another a prophecy to a church service (1 Cor. 14:26), each person in our group brought a unique offering to our mission.

The challenge to create an artistic representation of a concept unlocked an understanding and appreciation of Solitude and Reflection that we could never have gained through thinking alone. Art is as much for making meaning as for creating beauty. As Christians, we try to create it in a way that reflects the Glory of God. We appreciate it to the degree it resonates with the one for whom, and to whom and from whom are all things, to whom be glory forever (Romans 11:36).


CDL6 Update

Make your plans to attend CDL6 now!

Registration continues to fill up! We will have an enrollment limit of 500 for this conference, so if you are considering coming, we advise you to register soon and save your spot! We hope to post the schedule and workshop offerings soon.

We have four great pre-conference opportunities! Come a day early and immerse yourself in learning more about PBL, IB, or TfT. We recently added a fourth pre-conference offering on Spiritual Renewal. This outdoor opportunity will be led by Donovan Graham, Joanna Levy, and Jim Peterson. You can view more information here.

Schedule - this week we have accepted 50+ excellent speaker proposals and are working on building out the conference schedule. We will have a new feature that should be great fun, but I can't share it with you yet - yes, this is called a tease - come back here for more info next week!

Partnership: We are also seeking interested partners. Our partner sponsors understand what CDL is all about and that is why we invite them specifically to be there to connect with you. Please pass this information on if you know someone who might consider partnering to help make CDL6 possible.


Editor's note: We hope to share with you each week articles of interest that you may have missed. This will include current information as well as previous blog posts from CDL that perhaps you didn’t have time to read the first time around. If you have items you think may be of interest, please feel free to get in touch with me at


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