The Feeling Understanding Experience

“I don’t get it. It’s just a picture of a girl sitting in some field.”

A subtle nod of comprehension, acknowledgement without judgement: A student did not understand the previous day’s lesson. 

A quiet query posed to the class. 

Silence. Murmurings of agreement, admission: Many not understanding. 

A gentle question to the student: Would she help demonstrate and explain? 

Acquiescence. 

“Please go sit on the floor.”

The girl rises, hesitating, and then sits cross-legged in the middle of the circle of desks. 

Instructions, softly-spoken:

“Put your legs out behind of you, with your knees bent. The other way. Good. Straighten your left leg just a tiny bit. Good.”

“Turn your body to your right. Good. Put your arms out, and your hands on the ground. Right hand back. Good. Now put your left hand forward. Palm flat on the ground. Twist your torso a bit more to the right. Good. Keep your legs bent. Palms flat! Good. Now turn your head just a bit to the right. Good. Hold that.”

The girl sits.

A few moments pass. 

“What do I do now?”

“Keep sitting.”

The girl sits.

Seconds pass. 

The class senses the girl is becoming uncomfortable. Watching, waiting, some of the students are themselves becoming uneasy.

Words of quiet encouragement: “Keep the pose, don’t lose it.”

The girl adjusts. 

More seconds, a minute, pass.

Gently spoken, another instruction: “Look out the window.”

The girl looks out the window, expectant. 

Another minute passes. 

The girl looks further into the distance, searching through the window glass.

“How do you feel?”

The girl turns her head towards the teacher. “I don’t understand why I am sitting on the floor, espec—

“Keep sitting.”

The girl lets out a small sigh and turns her gaze back towards the window. 

Gentle light filters into the old classroom, soft shadows of spring leaves dancing on the floor in the afternoon quiet. A lovely light, increasingly disparate with the tension rising in the girl, spreading throughout the classroom. 

Silence. 

“Keep sitting.”

The girl sits.

“How do you feel?”

Again, the girl complains: “I don’t see anything. What am – “

“Keep sitting.”

The girl sits. A heavier sigh: The beginnings of resignation. 

More moments pass. The sense of the girl’s discomfort and growing impatience fills the room.

“How do you feel?”

“This is uncomfortable. My body hurts. I’m tired of sitting and waiting. I want to get up, I want to move.”

“Ahhh! Now you understand! You can get up!”

The girl lifts a hand, shakes her wrist, and slowly unfolds herself. Rising from the floor, she looks quizzically at the teacher. She does not think she understands. 

“The girl in the painting: Can you sense that’s how she felt in that moment, sitting in an awkward position in the dry grass in the field, so far from the farmhouse?”


This is how Jay Criche, my beloved, brilliant, and wonderful high school English teacher, taught Art as Experience, using Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World (also known as The Girl in the Field).

Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.