I. Aesthetic Education; Foundational Perception
Education – the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
Art – the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
Aesthetics – the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.
(Definitions taken from dictionary.com)
It is difficult to assess value to something that doesn’t seem to have practical value in everyday life. However, when an object or activity is held dearly by those closest to us, we have no choice but to either accept or seek to understand its value. Many times we simply choose to accept that someone values something apparently useless, but when cost or time become an issue, practical value must be evaluated. If it can be spared for the sake of continuing the livelihood of an individual or an organization, then it is eliminated. But one must be very careful since some very important things have no obvious value.
In our educational institutions, music is one of those very expensive things with little obvious value. It’s a good thing to have around, but if it gets in the way of physical discipline, academic achievement, or recreational activities, it is dropped. The question that we must ask is, “How much value is there in art education, and does this value justify the neglect of funding sports, clubs, advanced sciences, or field trips?”
In order to begin to address this issue, I must pause to clarify the difference between art education and aesthetic education. It is the same difference as between the light bulb and our vision; construction and use. Art education teaches how to create a subject that can communicate to another person. Aesthetic is the cumulative effect on a person’s perception that is generated from every component of the art. Aesthetic education is the most important part of the arts because it is the part that carries over into all other facets of life since it teaches us how to observe and make new connections.
Creating art requires enormous amounts of time, effort, and–in the case of music–money. Art education can therefore seem like an expensive waste of time and effort since it has little obvious practical value. But many people love it dearly and they convince the people who don’t understand it to not let it die. But what happens when funding is not available? What happens when a person’s time is limited? Do we let it slip from the educational experience? If given a choice between science and music, what would we choose? Why are most of you jumping to the obvious choice? I suppose it is true that understanding the physical world is more important than putting on a Christmas concert isn’t it…
Can’t a compromise be reached? What about art appreciation classes that don’t require that expensive and time consuming creative act? Can we teach aesthetics without teaching art? The problem is that students must create art in order to learn how to observe it because the most basic way of learning how to observe anything is to create it. Taste is enhanced by cooking, watching sports by playing them, shuttle launches by playing with tube rockets. Observation is always more effective when you know a little about how it’s done. Therefore it is safe to conclude that the most effective form of aesthetic education is art education. It is ineffective to sit through a lecture about how to observe art when we have not produced it. Just as you can’t teach students to read without ever teaching them to write, so you can’t teach students to observe without teaching them to create. So then, the first step in aesthetic education is art education.
Why is education important? In high school, I supposed that it was because I needed to know about the Korean war and how to solve a quadratic equation. But I have since forgotten most of the details of both and have still been able to get jobs and continue on to graduate studies. Obviously that information has not been necessary for my contribution to society. Education is apparently not for filling our heads with facts that we will use throughout out lives, but rather to expose us to large concepts and realities that will help us to continue learning throughout our lives.
Now, why is aesthetic education important? Education is learning to learn, but we learn details we won’t remember simply because the only way to become an efficient learner is to practice learning various subjects. But how does one begin to practice learning when they haven’t leaned how to engage their minds in something that isn’t tangible until the mind brings it into the learner’s imagination? What is art education? Is it not making something intangible a reality? Is art not therefore in the center of learning to learn? Is not art/aesthetic education leaning to observe? Learning takes place through observing, so if we never learn to observe we can never learn. Art education teaches to observe. Art education is education.
For imaginative and intuitive students, aesthetic education is the key to a lifetime of learning. Omit this, and you not only omit a major purpose of the educational institutions, but you omit a vital part of many student’s education (maybe for all students). So then, science or art? Simply, yes.