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Lesson Plans

freedom education and art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Mon, 06 May 1996 09:42:46 -0700 (MST)

On Thu, 2 May 1996, Mark Alexander wrote:

> Our job, perhaps, isn't to engineer artistic freedom, but to give them the
> art skills (P & E & thought processes & the ability to trust what they see
> and think) in a really cool//fun way so they almost don't know that they
> are learning them. Then they will be able to exercise their artistic
> freedom and accomplish what they want in the future. As adults attempting
> to define their culture and decipher other cultures, they will have the
> skills, or recognise that they need to learn more about those skills.

Not at all a bad notion Mark! I agree that skills, perhaps even more than
knowledge, move one towards some semblance of freedom. What I'd like to
respond to however is the notion that there might be value in NOT being
too aware of the process of learning. Maybe so, maybe I'm just not very
sure of what exactly is "going on" in regards to learning or teaching.
Children, especially the very young, seem to be driven to learn both
knowledge and skills. It is surprising then just how quickly learning
becomes a drugery and any self-identity as an "artist" lost.

What's going on here? Why do I get first and second graders who already
"know" that they "...can't DO art"? Why do I see primary age students
with a suspicion of schooling and an interest in avoidance? How is it
that learning, especially the learning of Art, begins to lose value almost
simultaneously with a child's dawning awarness of the word itself?

Is it related to generic projects applied genericly to a class as a whole
and not made pertinant to the individual at a point where self-identity
is just beginning to become conscious?

Could it be related to some separation or divorcement of learning knowledges
and skills from practical needs, interests, and opportunities for
application? Does a "pre-emptive" approach to the process of "education"
(as a prescriptive input) somehow degrade the child's inate involvement in

I just don't know... any suggestions out there?

> The hazzard of teaching art, of course, is that there will be fewer
> 'Grandma Moses' type artists in the future. But then, I think the world is
> so small now that art without outside influence is all but extinct anyway.

Its only a hazard, I think, if we are teaching the arts as formal
processes... "the way its 'sposed to be":

- use lines,
- color inside the lines,
- use the "right" colors,
- use a "correct" perspective,
- hold your brush or pencil the "right way"

All these, and you can no doubt think of a dozen more, are "convergent"
processes derived from the practice of science and technology, they
represent a narrowing, a focusing, on a set of "laws" which derive their
authority from tradition (not so bad really) and really rather arbitrary
selections of "what is formally correct". This approach is rather
academic (in the 19th century sense) and ultimately leads toward the
creation of skilled technicians of the arts, and an elite body of
knowledge that must be accessed, taught, in order to better appreciate
the production of those technicians. Now this is not "a BAD thing", don't
misunderstand my argument. It is a traditional way of doing art, like
Chinese brush painting or Santa Clara pottery, or Persian miniatures...
but nothing more. It simply represents working within a tradition.

An alternative approach, and one quite often associated with the young,
involves processes of exploration and experimentation. Yes, it does risk
the syndrome known as "reinventing the wheel" but even that is not
necessarily a "bad thing". One at least learns some real apprecation for
wheels. :-) This is a divergent process, a process of individuation,
personalization and even expression. The divergent process is a risky
process, finding results that are not a good fit, not "aesthetic" are
much more likely but we learn too to "correct" these things to our
personal needs, (not necessarily the formal ones) most of life involves
similar processes of self-correction.

It is reasonable, I think, at this point to voice concern for the
preservation of tradition. And that is an important thing. The question to
my mind is whether we prescribe tradition as the generic initial approach.
Certainly there is a great deal to recommend the practice of traditional
Western art. That in itself might be enough to insure that many IF NOT
MOST young artists will turn, as they mature, towards traditional
methodology, forms, and presentation. It has been suggested and I suspect
that familiarity learned from ones environment itself supports the
development of a bias FOR traditional formalism.

I don't think that our western tradition is at any unusual risk. We must
remember as well that traditions fade and new traditions arise. It would
not be sensible to assume that the Western tradition of arts since the
renaissance will continue eternally. Sometime, like Tang ceramics, we will
lose the continued participation of artists and artisans in the tradition.
The formal art will still be collected and appreciated. But, that art will
represent and era or period in art. I doubt that many of the folk of the
medieval era expected that in time their forms and practices would no
longer be much in evidence as daily practice; nor did the Scythians, the
Pharonic Egyptians, or the Mycenean people.

So I guess my question (for those who have read this far! ;-) becomes "is
our instruction of children in the formalisms of a single tradition, such
as the familiar Western, or for that matter ANY external tradition really
an appropriate to the arts? Are we, as teachers, interested in producing
for the most part consumers of a formalism OR are we interested in
finding out where our children are bound themselves?" Are we interested in
new paradigms of art and can we work WITH our students in the exploration
and construction of the future of our culture and our art? Is it
worthwhile for (maybe only some of) as art educators, to disengage from
the practice of traditional formalisms and to instead, engage in the
the exploration and practice of culture and aesthetics.

Just some food for thought.

I'm kind of ADD myself and alternate between moments of intense
concentration in differing fields (unable, for the most part to keep my
attention on a single discipline) and "recuperative burnout" where I
submerge myself in fiction.

Hope that explains my occasional disappearences from the list and the
cumbersome, intense, and lengthy posts when I suddenly pop up again.

Thanks for bearing with me