In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, Lynda Barry examines aspects of the arts through her various teaching methods. She strives to understand why humans develop intricate aesthetic patterns and why we need the humanities, using concepts rooted in neuroscience, philosophy, biology, and poetry among other things. Connecting the arts, Barry asserts, is an abstract concept called an image, an idea that translates to a distinct method of teaching.
For Barry, an image is “it,” the element of the arts that is at the core of communication: “This ancient ‘it’ is something I call ‘an image.’ By image I don’t mean a visual representation, I mean something that is more like a ghost than a picture; something which feels somehow alive, has no fixed meaning and is contained and transported by something that is not alive” (15). Though Barry may allude to psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious or Marxist notions of commodification, an image goes beyond such categorization by enacting a transcendent quality. This unifying force is dynamic, creating an interaction with objects that goes outside of language and quantification.
According to Barry’s notion of an image, art represents a specific interaction with objects, rather than any tangible quality. It is through an innate, a priori ability that humans engage with the world from this unique perspective. Though in some ways at odds with poststructural theory, especially its universality, the idea of an image allows for an epistemological shift that benefits humanities teachers. Instead of teaching skill or specific content, by shifting to Barry’s image approach instructors are able to teach a way of interacting with reality, a method of living in the present. Barry’s syllabi frequently assert that students do not need to have prior knowledge of a subject or be able to draw; they must simply involve themselves in the class and remain open minded.
Barry’s pedagogy is translatable to multiple environments and disciplines, redefining the way students approach the learning process. Individuals are able to more actively engage with courses, rather than passively receive instructions from the teacher. This reinforces the significance of creativity, ultimately making learning more effective.
Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor. Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.