Art Education? Why?

The above question is an important one for a society in which there is much to be done toward the appreciation and teaching of art. Is it really a waste of time for our students? Is it a subject that just tears them away for forty-five to fifty minutes from their core subjects? Or is it a subject that provides our students with some specific skills? You may say that as an Art teacher I am biased, but I firmly believe that art should be an integral part of our school system.

Art Creates Understanding
Art preceded writing. Though essential, writing is usually linear (except perhaps in literature), while art has offered multi-layer perceptions since its very inception. The cave paintings were not only paintings they represented stories and icons, and desires and ambitions. They were a communion with nature and showed fear of it. They were inspirations and dreams and revealed the urge to understand the place of humans among the forces of nature.  The understanding brought by art might have made it possible for homo-sapiens to leap forward in the process of the evolution of the mind. We have evidence that the human mind has made such leaps. The progress we have made in scientific spheres in the 20th century is one such leap. The fast pace of progress from Industrial to Technological and now to Space age has no other explanation except that the human mind has a capacity to make such leaps, and it does not necessarily operate in a linear fashion. But what are the conditions in which such leaps are likely to occur? They occur in freedom. They occur when new ideas are not received with hostility.  Art is a conduit to establish such conditions. Art in its very essence is about experimentation and expression of new ideas.  Art is the faculty of the human mind that enables it to refine his reservoir of perceptions, emotions and reactions. It represents its endeavors to understand its own nature, and the environment in which it exists.

Art Creates Appreciation of Beauty
It is important to recognize and appreciate beauty, as it raises us up on our emotional and spiritual scale. If this were recognized, there would be no question about the status of art in society. I think the Greeks were wiser to take beauty as a moral goodness, and ugliness as the only sin. If we accept this norm, art is more important than economics and philosophy. It is the direct measure of man’s spiritual vision.

But is the Woman series by William de Kooning a depiction of beauty? The answer is no. In fact, the attempt to find something beautiful in these paintings is a sort of insult to them. Even Picasso’s Guernica fails to fulfill society’s requirements of beauty. These paintings offer a different kind of aesthetic and have a different wavelength. Their beauty is in our emotion and in the expression of the emotion of the artists.  Their beauty lies more in our thoughts and reaction than in the form. Here we have art that is breaking form to make an impression on our emotions and mind.

Art Elevates Emotion
A lot of the richness of human life depends on its emotions. Without emotions we are machines that do not last very long and catch a large number of degenerative illnesses. Even at birth our genes can express themselves in one or more of the thousands of birth defects.  It is emotions that give us depth, meaning and roots. Art is a conduit that refines and elevates these emotions. The rhythm, harmony and theme of a work of art affect our nerves. It is a state of admiration and wonder, and it refines our emotional responses towards life. People who can create and who can appreciate creativity are likely to have empathy – the epitome of our emotional health. It is impossible to appreciate a work of art without having empathy. Every piece of Art is not only a visual but also an emotional event, an event that challenges us to refine and redefine our emotional state and understanding.

Society in general treats art as its illegitimate child. This is often expressed in the school system where Art is the first to go when funding is scarce, and last to be taken seriously when planning is done.  Do we just need individuals who are linear in their thinking? Would it not be better to encourage art that can help our minds leap forward?

Author: Imran Omer

I am an author and educator, who loves fiction and art. My blog will be on topics related to Literature, Art and Education.

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