Philosophy of (art) Education

And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work. –Exodus 35:33-35

Each man is responsible for educating himself. It is a creative act; that of creating a Self, nurturing a mind, forming an intellect. A slow growth, and rarely realized in full. How many would dare say of himself: “I am an educated man” upon leaving a school or college? Education relies on taking what we can from teachers, from books, from life, and leaving the rest where we find it. We build up knowledge, slowly and patiently; or in sudden bursts of illumination Somewhere along the way it blossoms into understanding, and occasionally completes itself in wisdom. This is education.

To say that I educate would be presumption. I teach. Teaching is an art, a performance, often a battle. It is the contact of two minds, one eager to impart knowledge or skill, the other, often grudgingly, struggling to receive. Tactics and methods can shift constantly — they are not really important. What is important is the thing taught, and the mind struggling to understand. The Subject must be worth that struggle, even if the student cannot yet grasp why, as subjects are skills or disciplines, rarely immediately “relevant.” It must be something real, teachable. None of the possibly desirable effects that may or may not come with time: self-esteem, critical thinking, sensitivity, cultural awareness, or self-expression.

My subject is Art. It is drawing, painting, sculpting, weaving. It is also seeing, trying to truly see, great works; Beauty and Truth made visible, tactile, by minds and hands in the image of God the Creator. Art can infect with joy or sorrow, a sense of the world as order or chaos, peace or striving. It is in the nature of things that appreciation of great art cannot be given directly, but only found, if not by inspiration, then through careful attention and diligent labor. So too with the cultivation of a Self that is worth expressing. Often, the more we try to get to the sublime in art by shortcuts, the more obscure and muddled everything becomes, and the less we believe that it is possible to create anything higher than a social commentary, or a reflection of cultural stereotypes and oppressions.

I avoid teaching what cannot be taught, though it be lofty, in favor of that which can, however humble. Students paint still lifes of fruits and flowers, carefully measure out cities in two-point perspective, memorize the principles of design, do watercolors of light and shadow, throw ceramic pots, and draw each other’s portraits. They look at paintings and drawings great artists, quite often dead European men, but others as well. Any art that can inspire admiration, wonder, or joy, instruct or enlighten, justified by its own worth without concern of the “overlooked minority” of its creator. I support creativity without constant pressure; expression without self-obsession. We work with humility, with a firm grounding in the possible; that creation cannot be demanded, only fostered — that Beauty can manifest itself on the student’s canvas as well. For those who are willing, an education is possible.

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