8.18.2008

Why Make Art?

'In the universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person's soul. However, this "soul" does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.'

Meaning of Life, Monty Python 1983

My task at hand is to try to get 81 design students jazzed about making art and I'm adamant about avoiding a vocational education approach involving the stick of learning that supports the carrot of future employment. I'm also wary of sparking a religious debate but still I want to pay tribute to where there is either a spirit, or a bunch of neurons, piecing together the patterns before us, there is something fundamentally freaky and magical about the revelation of existence, period. 

Searching for deeper reasons for art making I'm tempted to describe to my students characteristics of the ethical foundation on which on to base artistic action; a foundation that will also serve as the student's path of self development within a humanities educational framework and within the framework of society as well. 

This search uncovered a quote from Monty Python's "Meaning of Life" about which there have been some really great things written that revealed much about my own path. Additionally, the quote serves as a good general description of the art process and how the process itself helps both the artist and audience to grow.  The quote implies we don't start with all our spiritual/intellectual marbles, so to speak, but that we must pick them up along the way, by means of living our lives cognizant of the profound and subtle meanings our varied lives hold for each and every one of us, day after day. The means by which we become cognizant vary from person to person but observation, reflection, articulation is the common result. 

In art making as well as in life this process of self guided observation is a profound and sanctimonious endeavor that arguably each and every individual is born with the right to undertake. Granted this process doesn't always result in art, but in this quote is the implication that "self guided observation" is a self-evaluated process of development from initiate to adept; a process that is hopefully vetted by some group that can add to the individual some measure of accountability, whether it be an institution, a club or just some common sense folks. 

In one sense one never becomes fully adept but remains suspended in a sophomoric state that could be described as being both green and salty at the same time.  To the developing soul or spreading neural net, what is within our reach intellectually and spiritually on one level of observation/revelation is beyond our grasp on another more complicated level of observation/revelation. Unfortunately within our own lives we tend to run out of time for solving big questions but we at least we do get to pass the torch along by leaving a record of our observations, reflections and articulation.

This benefits the art student only as long as he is aware of his own development and can have the freedom to choose its course. Otherwise he will have spent his school years merely learning how to please others. In effect he will be postponing his own enlightenment.  The role of the teacher then is to engage the student in the process of observation, reflection, and articulation and provide known heuristics by which the student can explore and as they become more adept go on to invent their own. 

3 comments:

angelachristinalopez said...

Thanx for the comment again. And yes I've looked at Mendieta's work a lot. I enjoy your enthusiasm for art education. By this post alone I doubt you will be spitting out any cut and paste design students. I think the most important point you have made is that any person wanting a life in the arts has to realize the amount of self-motivation it takes to get anywhere with it. YOU certainly can make a spark but, they have to keep the fire going. As a student I'd be thrilled to have you as a teacher!

ubik said...

I like how you put it: "keeping the fire going." My passion for teaching was passed on to me by by my parents and dozens of great teachers I had in high school and college. Recently I read John Taylor Gatto's book "Dumbing us Down" where he spells out the problems with education. It sparked in me the resolve to make class as meaningful as possible, empowering the student to become the artist.

Meg said...

As your student, I'm touched that you have chosen to undertake such an incredible endeavor. This challenge is not only for us, as young individuals, to encourage our growth and reception, but it's also for you. Teaching others is one of the best ways to learn something about yourself, and I hope you find something small and amazing in you that you hadn't known before.
Many of your students have been skeptical about your approach to this class, but this mindset only proves that your lesson is all the more important. I already spend time pondering my being, but you are teaching me to think about myself artistically and convey myself to others coherently. I was thrilled to learn this wouldn't be a "cut and paste" how-to class, and you haven't let me down. Thank you, Al.

yesterday is here