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Lesson Plans


ART and INTELLECT REVISITED, again!

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Robert Beeching (robprod)
Fri, 15 Aug 1997 10:29:49 -0700

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ART and the INTELLECT REVISITED

The capacity for knowledge is one thing, but to be able to transfer this knowledge
into tangible expressions, is another. After reviewing Elliot Eisner's revised edition of
"The Educational Imagination," it reads like a typical college paper with all the right
citations. Missing from this tome, is the necessary practical field experience to make the
dissertation viable. Here is a classic example of what happens when the visual and
performing arts are subjected to intellectual analysis; all talk and little production value.
Eisner quotes John Dewey generously throughout the piece, but without the
emphasis on "learn by doing" which was John Dewey's primary thesis in "Art As
Experience." J. P. Guilford's study on the creative process is given lip-service; missing
the whole point of practical problem-solving techniques which, curiously enough, were
first promoted not by the School of Art and Architecture, but by Stanford's School of
Engineering.
John Arnold's book "Creative Engineering" is filled with a variety of problem-
solving examples that have been used and abused as forms of superficial entertainment.
The significance of visual problem solving techniques is apparently lost in translation.
Talking at breakfast one morning with Buckminster Fuller, he recounted to me
how many colleges and universities judicously held on to the video tapes of his lectures
and demonstrations they had recorded, and who were unwilling to share this knowledge
base with other institutions. He saw this as a problem in misdirected political purpose;
not as a solution for changing the face of American higher education; a sad commentary
on the archaic nature of doctoral programs still in existence.
Working as he did with Ph.D.candidates, Fuller's students at Southern Illinois,
were always impressed by his emphasis on "doing" rather than on talking and writing.
He saw the problem also in the light of academic reform. The dissertation requires
written and oral discussion, not practical applied problem-solving techniques. "We can
talk all we want about solving the problems of the world; I attempted to raise these issues
in 'Nine Chains to the Moon,' but it takes practical application in order to solve
problems."
If the Visual Arts are not about solving problems visually, then what is the role
and purpose of visual arts in public education? The current dialogue seems to deal more
with "self esteem" than it does with "art training." It is well and good to attempt to
accommodate the ills of society - but through a single discipline, alone?
From current discourse, one could gather that the role of Art Education is
something apart from Visual Arts Instruction. Watching a video on the works of
Mondrian, is an activity. Developing a composition on a Mondrian theme, is a lesson in
space division. Spattering paint through a piece of door screen with a toothbrush, is an
activity, not an emulation of a Jackson Pollack composition. Viewing art prints, is an
activity. Learning to draw, paint and to construct one's own composition, is a lesson.
If the visual arts are to take their rightful place among other public school
disciplines in a core curriculum, they had better provide more than desultory activities
and entertainment. Visual Arts must provide structure and content that has at its base -
instruction. The title "Art Education" is an oxymoron.
Robert Beeching , L.S.M.F.T.

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