Aesthetic Education; See the Art in and Around You

October 13th, 2010

We’ve previously defined aesthetic as the cumulative effect of every component within a specific framework.  Art produces aesthetic, but not just art produced by humans.  God is an artist too, and it is a sin to be indifferent to his creative work, the pinnacle of which is mankind. If only we realized the wonderful artistry found in each one of us we would not be as likely to sin by showing indifference let alone contempt towards each other and the world.  How do we recognize this Godly beauty in creation?  How do we develop it within ourselves?  How do we bring it out in each other?

Every person you’ve ever met has an aesthetic, and I’m sure you are well aware of this whether you’ve thought about it or not.  I’m referring to the cumulative effect of a person’s existence upon your senses.  Analyzing a person’s aesthetic is a completely rational way of evaluating another’s impression on your own mind.  Some components of a person are obvious:  physical appearance, personality, body language, accent, interests, intelligence, etc.  These are the things that determine whether or not a person is attractive, fun, annoying, or simply “nice”.  But there is something about a human being’s aesthetic that is unique; it’s that ability to behave in the way the person chooses.  It’s the ability to go against what is natural to human behavior or to not.  These choices are what weigh most heavily on a person’s aesthetic.

This trait of the ability to choose is what animates us and gives value to our lives.  It’s also what gives us the ability to develop virtue and vices.  It creates harmony because it makes chaos possible.  It is the center of our existence and causes within us a spectrum of possibility ranging from beauty to depravity.  It is this one thing that saturates our being and causes all of our other components to be seen by others in a way that will either please or irritate them depending upon the condition of their own aesthetic.

The evil, twisted, or unnatural aesthetic mutilates the beauty of natural human tendency.  It kills, covets, hates, gossips, and corrupts all that is good, having an inherent effect on the person and destroys them.  The aesthetic that chooses what is good goes along with unnatural human tendency and produces love, joy, peace, etc.  It is choice that creates beauty, but because of our desires that are contradictory to the way God designed us to be we all degrade our natural beauty to an extent no matter how good our choices are.  This causes our personal aesthetics to clash and grind against one another so that the whole of creation is degraded by our conduct.

So then, there is inherent aesthetic contrast between a good man and an evil one.  Obviously we’re all evil to an extent and fall somewhere on the spectrum of beauty and depravity.  But it’s important to identify extremes, decide where we fall, and how to progress on the path towards harmony.  But after we’ve done that, we quickly realize that we are not capable of reaching perfect beauty.  We strain ourselves and punish our flesh in a attempt to achieve a character produced by a righteous life.  Then many good-willed people justify their imperfections with the sorts of things the despised use to make themselves feel better; the main justification being the inappropriately ascribed subjectivity of beauty.

We are all created by the work of God, but we are still in progress: designed to make a choice as to whether or not we are going to allow God to animate us, or let our standard-less selves to animate us.  Whether we are to become beautiful works of art by the greatest artist in the universe who spilled His blood over us to complete us and perfect our beauty for the Artist’s glory, or to remain imperfect by rejecting completion.

We creatures are not left without a clue planted within ourselves.  It’s a taste of the perfect beauty we’re made to long for.  It’s the aesthetic of God longing to shine through our distinctive individuality.  This distinctive aesthetic is beyond words, music, or any other form of expression.  It can only be truly observed in the people you do life with.  And even then only in the people who have let themselves be the jars of clay God calls us to be; cracked and broken vessels overflowing with the Spirit of God.  But even with non-believers, glimpses of it can be seen longing to break forth but are suppressed by their desire to create a cheap imitation of themselves, thinking that they are fighting a tendency to be something ordinary.

We, along with the whole of creation, are simply components of one massive work of art.  Human art is a means of trying to assemble reality and make sense of its intricacies.  It is the physical form of asking questions, leaving finding answers to the perceiver.  It points us to the created world in such a way as to seek truth; God’s truth.  Since we ourselves, the physical world, and the spiritual world are all works of art, seeking the deepest truths of life through human art is perfectly logical.

Art does not teach us to know, but to seek to know.  To dwell on mystery.  To ponder various ways in which reality can be assembled and look at truth from a different angle; an intellectual exercise that brings life to your spirit (Roman 12:2, Phillipians 4:8).  Listen, look, read. Attend to various aesthetic objects so that your perception of reality can be sharpened.  Every angle available from which your are able to observe truth should be utilized.  Therefore, Aesthetic Education in the Church is not only necessary, but it is essential.


Aesthetic Education; Understanding Scripture

October 9th, 2010

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,

because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;

by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.

Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;

when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

-Proverbs 3:5-24 NIV

After I read these beautiful words I looked out over the hay field to the trees surrounding it and observed the wispy clouds that seemed to envelop the very essence of all that was in my purview.  “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.”  The simple experience enthralled me so much because perceiving so many wonderful things that fit together so perfectly was the very act of experiencing the wisdom of God.  Looking at the scene, thinking about what I had just read, and comparing it to the condition of my own heart was enough to be able to put that moment into an eternal context and dwell on it for the rest of my eternal existence.

What exactly was it that spoke to me so powerfully?  Was it the text itself?  Was it its meaning? Was it the encouragement the words brought in light of my broken elbow?  Was it other passages of Scripture coming to mind as I read the text?  Was it where I was when I read it?  Was it the cool evening breeze that picked up and diverted my attention to physical pleasure at just the right moment?  Was it all of the various emotions, sensations, and realizations being enjoyed in separate parts of my mind?  It certainly was all of these things, but it was so much more than that at the same time.  It was all of these elements working together to create a cumulative effect that refreshed my spirit and renewed my focus on God.

A week before this event, I had worked my night shift that Friday morning, and went straight from work to help with my church’s version of VBS (Sports Week).  I’d been there helping with the music and mentoring 12 and 13 year olds. I was very tired the whole week, but I felt so blessed to be able to be a part of what God did that week so the fatigue didn’t bother me.  Then in a split second I was laying on the basketball court with a fracture in my elbow that required surgery the following Monday.  As I recovered I’d been completely helpless and dependent on the wonderful people at my church.  But I’m not the kind of man that likes being dependent on people.  I love to help, but not to be helped; yet I needed a lot of help this summer.  That Thursday evening I was very upset.  I couldn’t work, couldn’t pack my stuff for moving that Saturday because I was so tired, could barely cook, and I wasn’t supposed to drive.  So the Spirit of God led me outside so that I could experience Him through His Word.  He gave me a gift of strength because I had very little left.  He led me to that passage, that physical context, and that level of brokenness so that He could breath His own strength into me.  He communicated his Word to me through an aesthetic experience.  He gave me a gift of realizing a new implication of that passage which resulted in the wonderful joy that is knowing God a little better.

Compare this passage with Psalm 104 and watch a sunset the next time you’re really down.  I dare you to not feel something.  How does God do it?  He does it by connecting His Word to His creation and then back to your heart.  That’s aesthetic.  That’s seemingly unrelated things being connected in your mind to create a cumulative effect so profound that you can’t contain your joy.  Aesthetic education teaches us how to make those connections.

But that’s just part of the story.  Let’s address the Bible outside of any other context.  Are we supposed to think about the Bible as a sequence of words put together in a certain way so that we know how we’re supposed to live?  Are we supposed to read Leviticus and begin stoning people who work on the sabbath, or are we supposed to connect that to Mathew 5, Luke 6, and Romans?  Or let me raise another issue.  How can you expect a high schooler to enjoy Jeremiah when they don’t have a firm enough grasp on literature to read Edgar Allen Poe?  How can anyone understand David’s passion for God when they can’t figure out how to connect the psalms to his life?

Aesthetic Education increases our ability to perceive everything, even Scripture and how it’s integrated with all of reality.  Find an artist (painter, dancer musician, etc.) and start taking lessons; not so that you can create great art, but so that you can perceive great art.  If you can’t perceive human art well, how do you expect to stand a chance in accurately understanding the greatest literary work ever written?  The words of God created the universe.  Do you really think you can understand them when they’re written down unless you learn to see and understand the world around you?

Don’t just tell your children to read the Bible.  Teach them how.


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 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.

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