J: How do you move the veil out of the way?

P: One thing is that I have ground rules in the class, two ground rules. One is that the students are not allowed to speak personally. When I say that, most people don't quite compute what I'm saying because it's not the usual way to work with people. But they're not allowed to speak personally. I define that as meaning, "what I like, what I don't like, what I can do, what I can't do, what I did before, what I'm going to do again, how I feel...." They're not to express anything personal out loud.

The second ground rule is that they are not to express negativity. That includes "the weather stinks" or "I have a stomach ache" or even just grunting in frustration. I don't want any negativity expressed in the room. So, as a result, that's the way the layers are parted, because at the very least the volume is turned way down on the part of the ego that doesn't want to go beyond itself. When they can't express out loud, "I can draw this and I can't draw that," it goes into the background very quickly. I don't have to stand there and waste time saying, "Yes, you can! Yes, you can do it. No, this is good. This is good."

I think the people who come to the classes understand almost immediately when they hear the rules. I can almost see a grin begin to spread across their faces, because one thing it means right away is that they don't have to listen to anybody else's personal complaints and whining and long story about whatever. I think people appreciate it. They value it. I certainly appreciate it. It makes my job exhilarating and uplifting. So the level of conversation, if there is any, is at a very high level. The people in the classroom behave with dignity, so it's their best self that's activated, and then that comes out in the art.

It's very stunning to hear those rules, because people are used to hearing, "Let's hear you talk about how you feel and what happened, and express yourself." Someone might say to me, "Okay, you mean, just draw I say, "No, I don't care how you feel. I only care what you do." "You don't care how I feel?" It's a little bit of a shock, but people want to be in the art class so badly and have to wait a long time to get in the class, and they can also get kicked out. And they trust me. Whatever it is about me, about my past, I'm not sure. I'm definitely real, but I'm impersonal. Someone can be warm and even affectionate and impersonal. So, I think they go along with me. If someone asks, "Why can't we speak personally?" then my response is usually, "Just try it for a month, and then I'm going to ask you why." Almost every time, people completely understand. It also becomes obvious. For example, if someone comes in and says, "I can't draw faces," I don't even have to say anything. The other people in the class will say, "Hey, that's negativity!" Then we'll say, "Okay, is there a positive way you can say that?" So the person will think a minute and say, sitting up and with a grin, "I'd like to learn to draw faces." Then of course everyone in the room can hear that one is a closed door, a shutting of the gate, while the other is wide open. So, it's obvious. It's amazing. They're very simple rules, and they work like crazy.


Photo by Charles Mosby