In Touch, a novella by Palestinian author Adania Shibli, omissions, silence, and negative space are significant structural and stylistic elements. English department chair Lewis Feuer tasked his English IV Honors students with exploring the novel by creating visual representations of themes within the work. Limitation and restriction are prevalent themes in both Touch and in the assignment, in which students used a hobbled version of Google Draw to make art.
The non-linear motion of the novella, which can be unfamiliar to students, suggests a consideration of the work as an emotional whole, free of the constraints of a traditional structure with which they may be more familiar. Mr. Feuer restricted students to using only the geometric shapes and line tools in Draw, providing both freedom and restriction, in that students of varying skill were all given the same set of tools with which to work. “The stakes are the same for every student,” said Mr. Feuer, “Whether they’re terrified by the act of drawing or feel like competent artists. Working in that unfamiliar space is a lot like reading Touch for the first time.”
Wielding laptops and tablets, students broke into small groups to present their work to classmates. In most cases, the artwork under consideration, composed variously of shapes and lines, prompted wide-ranging discussions about both the structure and content of the written work. All of the pieces presented elements of the novella that were identifiable and familiar to students who were then able to discuss those themes.
Using a contemporary visual tool to explore and understand a contemporary written work is a canny way to immerse readers. Art made in reaction to the source material can provide greater understanding and inspiration.