Watch out for "just"

In addition to English classes, I taught AP Art History for eight years. (If you have a chance, you should take it. It's a great class!)

When talking about art with students, there was one word I would not accept: just.

As in, "Rothko's paintings are just big blocks of paint that I could do in ten minutes," or "it's just another picture of Jesus--there are tons of them!"

It's fine to come to the conclusion that Rothko's color field paintings don't have much meaning for you, and it's fine to come to the conclusion that Jesus was a very common subject for European art for about a thousand years and there's not a lot of variety to the poses. Not everybody's taste or understanding is the same. 

But once you use the word "just," it's a signal that you've stopped looking and are cutting off thinking. You're not speaking against something critically, but dismissing it as not worth your thought. To be a decent art history student, you can't dismiss and refuse to consider works of art.

When you're making plans for the near future (I'm thinking primarily about seniors choosing their college before the May 1 deadline, but this applies to us all), watch out for the word "just."

"I'll just go to community college first and see how that goes."

"I'll just go where my parents are pushing me to go and avoid the conflict."

"I'll just go to school A instead of asking school B about more money."

Once you use the word "just," it should be a cue that you're being dismissive of something. Probably yourself. When you say "just," you're taking the safe and simple instead of adding some extra work or risk to do what you really want to do.

It may be that the community college/parent-approved/school A turns out to be the right place and where you end up. That's fine.

Just make sure that you're getting to that conclusion critically and intentionally, not by refusing to engage.


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