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; 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.

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