Monday, August 20, 2012

An Art School Education

 An Art School Education

 When many think of an education in the visual arts, it is easy for them to buy into the “Van Gogh myth” of the starving young artist living at the fringe of society with little hope of survival. But a consideration of the values which form the basis of an education in the visual arts clearly contests this stereotype.

These are some of the values that come as a part of an education in the visual arts:

Self-discipline through mastery of a range of skills and techniques.

Self-expression in written, spoken and visual form.

Creativity in the process of problem solving and personal expression.

Comfort with risk-taking.

Self-awareness through constant self-evaluation.

Independence of thought.

An appreciation for lifelong learning.

All of these support a rich and rewarding life with many possibilities.



We are each a gloriously improbable nano-second of order and complexity in a vast entropic universe. In the end, in cosmic time, we are, even the greatest of us, merely insignificant specks of physical being. So what do we do? Whimper? Rage? Hang onto God’s apron strings? Sell cars? Sing hymns of praise? Lay on the couch eating junk food? Fuck our brains out? Care about something? Make art? Exit with the light energy of a supernova? It’s a choice that we alone, as human beings, must make.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Visual literacy

The American educational system tacitly assumes that English and mathematics are the most important (and generally only) languages that are necessary for general literacy. Yet we are swimming in visual culture—design, advertising, marketing, fashion, photography, art and craft, landscaping, product design, film, video games, TV, video and more. All these media and venues directly affect the way we see and interpret the world. In too many instances, the motives and intentions behind the products of visual culture are suspect, profit-directed, deceptive, seductive and work at the most superficial levels of communication.

Anyone who believes visual culture has no significant impact on the values of our culture is deluding himself.

So what can be done? I believe that the case for visual literacy as a part of all
K-12 curricula should be made and made strongly and effectively. Students should have a basic understanding of the grammar and structure of the visual language. Students should learn to “read” and deconstruct visual images. Students should learn how images carry history, values and mores of a culture. Students have the right to understand how skilled artists and designers use sophisticated techniques and media to communicate messages. And they have a right to acquire the skills to interpret these messages for themselves.

What happens when we view art as a language? It becomes no longer simply a means to make objects. Rather it becomes a tool for research, a tool for thinking, a tool for communication, a tool for personal expression, a tool for story telling and more. The first step is to learn to see and to look carefully and deeply at the world. The essential skill for this is drawing.

When children first make marks, they explain them to adults as images. It’s only after the first tentacles of formal education take hold that their marks become letters. They become symbols and basically lose their visual nature. Early in the child’s education stick figures, yellow suns, stereotypical kid trees become good enough for all but a few “talented” kids. Visual literacy stops there. This is something that would never be allowed to happen in English or mathematics curricula.

At this point, students essentially stop looking. This fundamental skill withers. The stick figure is enough, and the inadequacy of the student in this language is affirmed. The ability to use and appreciate visual art declines among students and consequently the general public. There’s limited support for art in the schools as a result. And here we are.

I say this is just not good enough.