Aesthetic Education; Loving God

July 22nd, 2010

So far this series of posts has dealt with matters of intellect, enhancing people’s awareness of the world, and their overall cognitive abilities.  To the academic world these are matters of significant consequence (Although I am quite certain that I have not persuaded anyone).  But now that we’ve defined our terms and unpacked some sensitive concepts it is time to apply them to things of great consequence to the church and her members.

Getting to know God and becoming more like Him should be a Christian’s chief concern in life. Following His commands is a given, and not sinning would be a very simple task provided we grew to love God with all our hearts.  There are two methods that God as given us to grow closer to him: general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is God’s word given to us through the prophets and any teaching or analysis done that originates from scripture.  The church handles the word of God quite effectively for the most part, and I have taken a lot from the teaching I have received.  But, unfortunately, simply teaching the word only goes so far and the intense division in the church we have today bears witness to this.  The word of God is only part of the picture, and for the church to not teach general revelation as much as it teaches special revelation is to limit the church’s perception of God’s glory and majesty along with the deep knowledge and wisdom that result from studying his creative work both aesthetically and analytically.

To only study the word is like getting to know a person only by talking to them.  When I first met Liz (my fiance) we got to know each other initially through conversation, but as our friendship deepened conversations by themselves only went so far.  We started to experience life together; listening to a stream together, attending to a specific part of the sky, running, going to the symphony, studying pedagogy, and countless other activities enhancing not our factual knowledge of one another, but in a profound sense our aesthetic understanding of one another.  I didn’t ask Liz to marry me because of the factual knowledge about her that I had accumulated; it was because of the things I had learned abut her aesthetic characteristics in between conversations that I fell in love with her.

Do we somehow expect our relationship with God to develop differently?  How is it that He can give us such a clear picture of what kind of relationship he wants with us using marriage and we (mostly) ignore it?  Just as it is impossible to fall in love with another person by talking it is impossible to fall in love with Christ only by studying the Bible.  You have to spend time with him outside factual knowledge and dive into the richness of his creative work.  By enjoying other people’s perceptions of that work, creating representations of your own perception, and perceiving his wonders first hand, you will gain an aesthetic understanding of our Savior beyond words.  This is when and how you will fall in love with Christ.  Feel free to memorize every word of the Bible, but until you learn to actually perceive Him in the world around you, you cannot know Him well enough to love Him.

Now, when it comes to the study of scripture, it’s impossible to even understand the depth and beauty of the Bible until you’ve experience life with God.  Much of he factual knowledge in the Bible is rooted in the aesthetic understanding of the world.  I, for example, was bored to tears trying to read the major prophets until I had composed the Dark Process since that was how I learned to understand a large work rooted in emotion rather than story.  Several symphonies and concertos by various composers also acted as gateways into the major prophets for me.  But this isn’t even the best part; I met with God and glorified his name in the midst of these aesthetic experiences that also enabled me to enjoy His Word.  So it hasn’t been the Bible alone that has caused me to love God, it has been the perception of His creation through the lens of Scripture which I gained through an understanding of creative work..  That said,  I also want to make it clear that the lens of scripture is vital to the accurate perception that draws us to worship.

Aesthetic education teaches the believer to learn about God through general revelation.  It is through God’s gift of his creative work perceived through the lens of His word that we will learn to love Him.  Therefore opportunities for aesthetic education in the church are essential to foster a passionate and unifying adoration of our Savior.

Aesthetic Education; Learn to Learn

July 19th, 2010

So then, the reason we educate is so that young men and women can start down the path of a lifetime of learning.  Art education is in the center of this because it teaches us how to perceive which in turn is applied to every component of our being.  The more we perceive, the more we learn.  The better we learn how to perceive, the better we will learn to learn.

Aesthetic education helps us to make new connections in the things we perceive (not to mention in our brains).  For example, how is a tree connected with the sky?  We would all agree that they belong in the same field of vision, but what is significant about the two being in one person’s perception simultaneously?  Study painting and you may begin to see something about these very normal things that you never noticed before.  Write a poem and you may feel a new emotion evoked by the subjects.  New connections are made because you have been taught to see things in a new and largely unexplainable way.  Not only that, but you will find enjoyment you’ve never had before which will motivate you to dig deeper.  New connections, when taken to much higher levels, can create entire worlds.  When massive amounts of new connections are made, learning becomes inevitable.

But what is the practical value of achieving this?  What are some specific examples of how this enhances a person’s education.  I could simply say that people involved in the art consistently receive higher marks, but I’m not convinced that that is relevant since I am also not convinced that high marks indicate a good student.  My concern is that a student becomes interested in something worthy of their attention.  If a student excels at every subject but is disinterested to the point where he does not do any learning on his own, then he is not making a worthwhile amount of new connections and his education is useless. This is exactly the problem that aesthetic education conquers.  Its usefulness is hidden in the depths of cognitive development and not in isolated example.  It is the all-encompassing method towards becoming a more effective learner.

Aesthetic education should be at the heart of any educational institution.  It is in the area of study in which the mind learns to open itself to new possibilities and insights.  The inherent intuitive benefits of a rich background in the arts teaches students to approach every subject with a passionate and attentive curiosity that pursues knowledge to the ends of the earth.  If this is not the purpose of education, then I fail to see why we don’t stop going to school at the age of twelve.

Become interested and engage your perception.  Learn to learn.  Create something that communicates past the senses.

Aesthetic Education; Foundational Perception

July 11th, 2010

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

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.

What Should Believers Do With Secular Art?

January 28th, 2010

In the past I’ve heard people say that we Christians should eliminate any sources of entertainment in our lives that are not of a profound spiritual nature.  That somehow all of the art we consume has to be holy and set apart to glorify God and all other art should simply be dismissed.  Also, in the dark past of recent Christian history even certain sounds themselves were considered unfit for worship in the church.  The drum set has been (and rare cases still is) an instrument of the devil and having the beat on two and four causes a raging desire for unholy pleasures (if you know what I mean).  This detail in particular offends me deeply since playing drum set is one of the primary ways in which I worship my Savior.

Since I’m dealing with extremes, I should probably shed light on the opposite end of the spectrum:  Since the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s, he has the ability to redeem anything.  This must include art.  So people take that to mean that if they are believers, they can consume any art they want and so long as they are using the experience to learn about God.

Both of these extremes are equally dangerous.  The former because to consider any human art as incapable of being corrupted is itself a clear demonstration of pride (the most satanic and destructive sin of all).  Similarly, it is shameful for a man to think he has the authority to label anything or anyone unfit for the kingdom of God.  It’s God’s call, not ours.  It is also dangerous because this view makes accusations based on a lack of cultural familiarity and not the word of God.  The drum set and the guitar are intimate parts of our culture, and to condemn the objects themselves without clear biblical grounds means that we (not God) condemn the culture we do life in.  Not to mention that this is a sick and twisted materialistic view of holiness.  Holiness comes from our hearts, minds, and lives, not the tools we use to show admiration to God.

The other extreme is dangerous because Satan uses very subtle ways of getting us to stray from our faith, and one tool he’s very fond of is beauty out of its proper context.  Dance is a wonderful artistic tool, but it can be used in a pornographic way very easily and subtly (I define pornography as anything meant to awaken sexual desire outside of it’s proper context).  It can be very easy for a man (or woman really) to justify consuming such art by saying that they are admiring a well crafted and beautiful presentation that has no obvious sexual reference.  Yet they know that watching is encouraging them to fall into lust.  The principal in this example applies to everything.  If you’re reaction to a work of art is sin, or the art has the intent of tempting us rebel against God then don’t consume it.  At the same time, don’t instinctively condemn art because you’re reaction to it is sin because it may be you that is the problem and not the art.

So then, there is no clear line of right and wrong when it comes to entertainment.  There are some things that can be labeled as a clear attack on the moral principals that guide us in our daily lives, but most secular art is not that simple.  Use the good judgement that God gave you.  Don’t listen to things that make you stumble in your walk with Christ, meditate on the things that draw you closer to Him, and don’t consume art you’ve approved for yourself around you weaker brothers and sisters (who you are commanded to love) that can’t handle it.

I would like to end this by justifying and recommending a work of art that is clearly secular.  In 1997, The Five Sacred Trees, by John Williams, was released and added to the neglected genre of “Bassoon Concerto”.  If you don’t know what a bassoon is, I strongly urge you to purchase this recording and consume it until you are well informed about the beauty of the sound which a bassoon can produce.  This work is a beautiful depiction of a very specific component of nature, and it is very easy to use this work to help you marvel at the wonderful creation around you.  Ever since I consumed this work, I have not been able to look at a tree without marveling at God’s awesome workmanship.  However, it is very possible that some believers have struggled with tree worship and witchcraft in their past.  I highly doubt I’ll ever come into contact with someone like this since tree worship has not been common for quite some time, but if a rare exception stumbles upon this work I would strongly recommend that they carefully consider what their reaction might be before they listen to this.  I mean this very sincerely, but I also mean it as an example of what I’ve just discussed.  Just because one person stumbles into sin because of a work of art doesn’t make the work unholy.  It simply means that the person should not be listening to it.

Do purchase and enjoy this work.  It is $4.95 on iTunes, and worth every penny.  Feel free to give it a rating and write a review as it needs much more attention than it has gotten these 13 years. John Williams, Judith LeClair & London Symphony Orchestra - Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain - The Five Sacred Trees (Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra): I. Eó Mugna

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