01 October 2012

Art and Invention Across the Curriculum

Lights in the Night by Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson

It is ArtPrize time in Grand Rapids, Michigan and this past weekend was the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, Queens, New York, and it is a fascinating chance to "re-discover" Christopher Columbus on 59th Street in New York... and all of this adds up to some key questions about how we have failed in education by failing to embrace the arts fully enough.

Cities: Departure and Deviation - Milwaukee to Youngstown detail (above)
and New York, Newark, Philadelphia detail (below) Norwood Viviano

I sometimes note, from a historical perspective, that before Gutenberg and the Reformation and the Calvinist devotion to text, "the arts" were the dominant thing in - and form of - education. Symphonies and operas, frescoes and sculptures, choral works and theatre, storytelling and simple folksong were the ways in which culture was both transmitted and reimagined.

Disabilities and Sexuality by Robert Coombs
But our "western" schools were created principally by Protestant ministers - in the US by Calvinist New Englanders of Yankeedom - in British-influenced nations by the Anglican and Presbyterian class of industrialists - and thus became places of a single form of "reading" and "writing" with a definite hierarchy of subject matter we cling to still. A hierarchy with art, music, theatre and other creative arts at the bottom, or, if not quite at the bottom, only just above the workaday skills of every day life - how we make things.

So, neither Michael Gove nor Arne Duncan really gives a s*** about how your students are "doing" as artists and creators. Neither Pearson nor NewsCorp has figured out how to turn evaluations of the creative into profits which can then become campaign contributions, so it is of no interest to those who hold power in this time... but it is very important to me, to you, to our children, and to the future.

Columbus Tranformed and Reconceived: The statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City's
Columbus Circle (Gaetano Russo, 1892) is being cleaned and restored, but as it is,
it is being rediscovered and reconceived via artist Tatzu Nishi's incredible installation...
Our children will either grow up to be "consumers" or they will grow up to be "makers." They will either solve their own and society's problems or they will turn to someone else's "app store" to purchase a canned solution. They will either see possibility with an artist's eye or they will simply accept what is placed before them.

Which of those directions are our schools leading our children toward?

As I moved through ArtPrize, as I watched images from Maker Faire, as I looked around this weekend I wondered why art and the maker ethos do not dominate our school days? Isn't the Lights in the Night a magnificent way to express all kinds of science and aesthetics? Aren't giant Van de Graff generators another way? Who could imagine a more powerful way to see population growth and (perhaps) decline than the tactile glass are of Cities: Departure and Deviation? (you were perhaps thinking of a Microsoft generated chart?).

Who could force a more powerful conversation around Columbus Day than by - literally - placing the "great explorer" (or "great colonizer") into our living room and making us consider all that he did - intentionally and unintentionally? How could we open the conversation about "the disabled" being fully human - or not - than with Robert Coombs' photographs?

And what could mean more to students than to abandon the nonsense of the "five paragraph essay" and the arithmetic worksheet and to create - to make - their own explorations and explanations?

- Ira Socol

1 comment:

Danielle Gideon said...

Mr. Socol, my name is Danielle Gideon and I am a education major at the University of South Alabama. I have been assigned to comment on your blog and will summarize a follow up of my comments on my class blog http://gideondanielleedm310.blogspot.com/ in a couple weeks.

I very much enjoyed reading your blog post about ArtPrize and the World Maker Faire. I agree that arts in our current school system have been shoved at the bottom of the totem pole. I found it interesting how you recounted the history of how our "western" schools have come to put such a low emphasis on art programs. I had never thought before how art can be used to teach other subjects such as science and aesthetics. I found your post of be very enlightening and it gave me many ideas of how we can break out of the current "western" classroom grind.