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Lesson Plans


Re: Artist? New: constructivism

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Fri, 11 Apr 1997 11:30:06 -0700 (MST)


On Fri, 11 Apr 1997, Shelton Wilder wrote:

> Thanks for the response henry, I'll share my "slant" on the question "what
> is an artist" with all, per ellen's request, however, you must know,
> there is no "competition" underway here.

Then we agree on that; still, competition remains a popular notion.
Currently, cooperation is being styled as "the alternative" to
competition. Seems to me like a retention of the same binarist metaphor
that drives notions of competition. The proposition itself ALMOST implies
a competition betweeen competition and cooperation. But OK, in any case
we are not aiming to compete here. "It's a good thing."

Your citation of Robbins is excellent; but an interesting contrast to
your original post. I'm wondering how they connect for you.

> "On her small canvas, she recreated a section of the Crazy Mountains,
> the range near Living-ston that they had admired earlier that day; that is
> to say, she recreated the mountains not as she had originally seen them,
> but as she eventually chose to see them, for a person has not only
> perceptions but a will to perceive, not only a capacity to observe the
> world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it - which, in the
> end , is the capacity to alter the world, itself. Those people who
> recognize that imagination is reality's master, we call 'sages', and those
> who act upon it, we call 'artists'." Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

As it is such a nice lead in, (and as this post seems to have moved over
to the list) I should note that it is very "constructivist" in spirit. A
capacity to alter our observations (or our memories), a capacity to alter
the (or "our") very world; these capacities seem to be the esssence of
constructivism and, as Robbins ties in, creation as well. I particularly
like Robbins frame of the artist as the one who takes on the personal
responsibility to participate in the shaping of reality, contributing the
visions chosen.

Of course, there is no guarantee that a reality which is constructed by
an individual, or mutually constructed by a like-minded group, will suit
the larger population or be perceived with the same sense of rightness
that the originator finds. Recently 39 individuals shaped such a
compelling reality; one which proved so "right" for them that it lead to the
abandonment of their "vehicles"; a mass suicide which held the attention
of a portion of the planet for an unusual amount of time. Their "15
minutes" still seem to reverberate about us. Constructivism can be a
formal philosophical stance but it can also be an inate way of living and
dying, A perceived phenomena, inherently neither "good" nor "bad". This
was a bit of a tangent or an aside; but lately on my mind.

Robbins points out that the artist constructs reality. I believe that is
a good thing for an artist to recognise. Robbins also proposes heree that
artists are defined by acclimation: "...we call artists." and I wouldn't
disagree. There is nothing in the passage which disallows any other
definition which I like as well. We might validly choose to call small
children artists for completely different reasons. Martha Stewart, or
Bob Ross, Norman Rockwell, Howard Finster, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons,
Dekooning, Nauman, Bueys, Dali, VanGogh, Rembrandt, and the "girl next
door" might also be recognized as artists. I don't know that, other than
in relation to issues of funding, such recognition or affirmation matters
much. It's the possibility that counts in my construction.

Japanese stories (theatre and film included) frequently tend towards
tragedies of people who attempt something and fail. It is the attempt
which qualifies the hero, success is not required. And so, to my mind, it
is also the attempt rather than the success which qualifies the artist,
regardless of the criteria chosen. For me the individual who attempts an
aesthetic act becomes, in the attempt, an artist.

The greatist power of an artist may indeed be, as Robbins proposes, in the
construction of realities. I would wish that Art Teachers could grasp this
notion and I'm really happy you brought it into the discussion by sharing
that passage from Robbins. My personal fantasy, in this regard, is the
possibility that I could share what I feel to be the best parts of my own
reality and at the moment writing appears to be my most likely medium. I
can't really expect to be successful but I must make the attempt as if I
did and despite my expectation of failure.

So this is how I see constructivism connecting to art and to art education.

When you wrote:

> "You can not call yourself
> AN 'ARTIST'
> until you are able to
> ORIGINATE,
> INITIATE,
> then CREATE an ARTIFACT
> which DEMONSTRATES QUALITY ACHIEVEMENT
> in the COMMUNICATION
> of your IDEA
> with COMPETENCE and CONFIDENCE;
>
> again and again. Shelton Wilder 2-24-1997

...I guess it was that word "until" that I focused upon. Having read the
Robbins piece I'm still at a loss as to how it comes into the discussion.

I admit to sliding too easily over the next quotation:

> "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once
> he grows up." Picasso

That indeed is the problem. It was not until the passage from Robbins was
added that it began to connect for me. Every child who can is intent upon
constructing itself. The intent can be so intense that little the teacher
does can interrupt the process, but that is rare. The intent can be so
weak that evewrything the teacher can do will not be enough. But in either
case, we must make the attempt. It is the rare human who transforms the
stuff of life into art. Generally, we are more than happy to make it into a
gallery or museum. People shouldn't feel bad if all they can do is make
exceptional chicken soup, or tie their shoes neatly. We don't all have
the capacity for "great art" but mostly we do have the capacity to make
an attempt at some level.

Whether or not we recreate the world as great artists it remains that
a good part of OUR world is created by the people in the room or on the
street around us. If we could share this perspective more broadly, or at
least find some way of sharing it, perhaps Art Education in the would not
be so much at sixes and sevens.

Sometimes I'm satisfied with what I evoke, but in the really important areas
of my life, mostly I'm not. I don't quite feel I've succeeded yet. I'm
not sure I'd want it otherwise tho... Maybe its better that all I have is
the attempt.

Well so much for responding to your kind note Sheldon as well as the
attempted definition of constructivism. Its good to get the chance.

-henry