I was also very impressed with Ellliot Eisner's list of things learned in art. I had recently sent a letter on behalf of a parent. It was to a newspaper editor to try to get a school administration to consider adding elementary art teachers. Eisner's talk covered exactly what I was also thinking about. One of his closing challenges was to share the importance of art learning with those who are not already part of art education.
I agree that learning to make choices and judgements in the absence of rules is a life skill that schools seldom attend to in other subjects. Yet, in a free society, most of life choices must be made based on judgements rather then rules. Getting a chance to practice this in an art class setting where quality, meaning, and effectiveness are critiqued, is an important mind forming activity. When we study the work of artists, we learn that many of the most important artists are those who push boundaries. People who base their artwork on pushing boundaries are rule bending thinkers. Artists who break boundaries are the ones who see the rules as obsolete or poorly formed. For really creative individuals, they are able find solutions because they understand that the generally accepted rules are often part of the problem. How can we teach this better?
Bad rules are stereotyping influences. They show up in unexpected places, even in our art classes. Rules think for the student. Children trained to follow meaningless rules do not think for themselves. Rules are in textbooks, in workbooks, in coloring books, in crafty art assignments, in art examples shown before the media work, in demonstrations done by art teachers, in the principles and elements written by Bauhaus experts, and in many other insidious ways that we may fail to recognize in our zeal to get impressive looking art products from out students without making the effort to get them to think for themselves about their own lives and experiences.
I know a young MIT scientist who got three top awards this year. His recent discoveries have the potential to find treatments for many of the most perplexing incurable illnesses. When questioned by a reporter about the mind forming aspects of his childhood that produced the kind of thinking that makes major scientific advances, he credited parents who provided art materials, but did not allow coloring books because they did not feel that their child should be expected or allowed to color in somebody else's pictures. Children who learn to think while creating art are learning much more than art. Those of us who teach art are uniquely placed in our students' lives for a purpose that goes way beyond what we think we may be teaching.
>Today my paper mailbox contained the keynote speeches from the last three NAEA national conferences. I am happy to have these. I sat in the enormous audience for Elliot Eisner's speech in Boston and there was more than one statement that made me smile...but I took no notes. So here is one good nugget.
>"Gifted art teachers provide models and aims of practice that other fields would be wise to emulate. What are the cognitive processes that the arts develop? ...One is that it helps youngsters learn how to make judgments in the absence of rules. When youngsters are choosing, making choices, making decisions and making a painting or a sculpture or whatever it is they're working on, but there is no recipe that they have to follow in order to make those choices. They need to engage in their experience, their bodily experiences, with the images in order to make the choices that will enhance the work. So making judgments in the absence of rules is something that the arts makes possible...and what you see at the end is the result of the choices that they've made."
>(National Art Education Association, page 66)