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.
photo by Marshall Marice