Artistic education is more than just doing art.
In teaching, knowledge must become alive. The educators' scientific understanding of their task must be transformed into an art of teaching which can allow pupils to build up a living relationship with what they are learning. Children respond to the world through their feelings long before they begin to think consciously. This should be an intrinsic element in all teaching: the realisation that the aesthetic nature of a lesson is as important for the child as the content.
A good lesson is a work of art. The ability to enthuse the students and impart to them the love of learning is something that will remain with them for their whole lives. How is this to be achieved? All lessons need careful preparation and forethought, yet it is also necessary to have the courage to change and adapt to the particular needs of a class in the lesson itself. The teacher must master the subject and be able to convey the requisite knowledge but, rather than it being presented in pre-digested form, it should be alive and inspiring.
The value of an artistic education was first expounded by Plato but the implications of his ideas were disregarded over the centuries except by such great figures as Friedrich Schiller and Martin Buber. Plato claimed that the harmony and the moral disposition of the soul itself was determined by aesthetic feeling. "And moreover the proper training we propose to give mill make a man quick to perceive the shortcomings of works of art or nature, whose ugliness he will rightly dislike; anything beautiful he will welcome gladly, will make it his own and so grow in true goodness of character; anything ugly he will rightly condemn and dislike, even when he is still young and cannot understand the reason for so doing, while when reason comes he will recognise and welcome it as a familiar friend because of his upbringing." (1) In the light of our experiences in this century this can appear to be too deterministic, however we can agree that an aesthetic environment has a profound effect and should be part of the life of a classroom down to its actual architecture. The pictures on the wall, the colours of the fabrics, the arrangement of the desks, the drawing or writing on the board, the way the teacher stands, moves, speaks and balances humour and seriousness are all bound by aesthetic considerations. The children watch, observe and absorb. It is not only the subject matter that has a resonance but the totality of the experience. Such a lesson is not just taught but is created in the relationship between children and teacher. A high ideal indeed, but a possible one, and all those who have witnessed such moments, however briefly, can testify to their potency.
To arrive at this, the concept of childhood must contain the image of the child as an artist too. An artist that is constantly working on the building of its body and capacities. In the ages of the Lower School, from 7 to 14, all that meets the child in its environment is transformed into inner pictures and images and so the teacher must respond with artistry and not just purely the intellect. The intellect comes into its own when the pupils pass through adolescence. They then travel from polarities to contrasts, from analysis to synthesis, as a path of development towards their own individual judgement. And the teacher should be there to facilitate this, to enlighten and inspire. With this development of intellect there arises a deep longing for creativity and idealism and this should be met in the structure of the lessons and the day.
"What passes for education today even in our best schools and colleges is a hopeless anachronism ... our schools (despite their rhetoric of preparing for the future) face backwards towards a lying system rather than forwards towards an emerging new society." (2) Now we see the old certainties crumble around us we see that to constantly seek solely pragmatic solutions to our problems can be both irrelevant and shallow. We know that we exploit the earth and our fellow humans in a manner that our conscience increasingly demands that we change. Totally new thinking is needed as a basis for a new morality. This morality has to be based on the precept that for children the world is first good, then beautiful, then true and is itself an artistic creation.
To meet the child´s inner quest a new artistry of teaching is needed to counter balance the increasing mechanisation of our world and ourselves and for them to retain throughout their lives a respect for what it is to be a human being.
1) Platon, Politeia, III, 401e
2) Alwin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970