Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Engine of Culture

Michelangelo Buonarotti,
The Creation of Adam, 1508-1512, detail.
This post was triggered by a post Art as Salvation or Education on Joanne Jacobs' blog and was partly published as a comment there.
We stand on the shoulders of the likes of Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo Buonarotti and Siddharta Gautama. The engine of human endeavour is revved up by three disciplines: Science, Art and Religion. These main strands of our expertise cannot be circumvented when devising a curriculum in secondary edation.


To start with the latter: even when you are an atheist like I am, you have to come to terms with the meaning of your life, or the futility of your death. The quest for the answer is a religious journey. Atheism, Islam, Christianity, or Zen, all those different ways to solve the riddle of our just being here for a short time only are all intricate patterns of do's and don't s, procedures, and systems of thought. They are bodies of knowledge and their findings should be communicated in the school's curriculum, not to foist a particular religion on the students but to have the question of meaning at the core of the curriculum. You may call it philosophy if you distrust the term religious studies.


The impact of science on our world is obvious. I suppose that's why politicians and administrators emphasize the importance of science and maths in education. I agree with them completely.


Piero Manzoni,
The Artist's Shit,contents freshly preserved shit, produced and tinned in 1961.

Visual artists have been asking profound question's about our cultural codes throughout the twentieth century. Their weird art works cannot be frittered away as just "shit." It is the art teacher's job to clarify the thoughts underlying such a work to make it understandable to the students.

source image
Art is epitomised by its products being rendered seemingly effortlessly. The sparkling colours of the painting, the high pitch of the trumpet, the terse prose in the novel, the beauty of the chair you sit on, the accessible design of the website, the wonderful proportions of the building, all these riveting expressions of art seem to come naturally and with ease. I guess that's why art is often underestimated in education when decisions are made about budget and curriculum.

The artists who perform these acts are experts in their disciplines. They don't want you to feel obliged because they worked so hard to attain this level. They just thrill you with their skills.
Be sure: they have worked doggedly for many years to make you feel enthralled. And they need you. They need an educated public that perceives their colour combinations, discerns the melodic line in the symphony, recognises the style of the chair, and appreciates the post modern whimsical approach of the architect. Above all they need the applause or jeers that tell them what is ugly and without merit and what is beautiful and contributes to our well-being.

That's what we do as art teachers in secondary education. We teach the audience for the artists. Every so often we have a talented artist among our students and we will show him the way to a profession as an artist. But that is not the main thing. Neither am I very interested in developing hobbyists who take up art for leisure at a later stage in their life, though such a thing is not to be sneezed at. Art classes are not about making lovely art only. We teach creative procedures, artistic principles, art history, and the making of art to create a knowledgeable audience for the artists. Thereby we rev up the engine of our culture with a divine spark and advance the quality of our lives.

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