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Topic: Response to "Why Arts Education Matters"
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Response to "Why Arts Education Matters"
Posted: Feb 12, 2008 4:58 PM
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Response received from Mr. Michael Martin on Tuesday, February 12,
2008. For info about Mr. Martin, see bottom. The article is from the
Arizona School Board Association Journal, Winter 2007. Not available
The Reality of Art

By Michael Martin

Suppose we stopped teaching math and science and schools only taught
singing and dancing and painting and photography and acting and music.
How impoverished would we be?

Many people consider the arts to be an educational frill on the function
of schools to provide workers for the information age. But in many
respects the arts are the fundamental engineering of the information
age. It is simply wrong to think the arts cannot contribute to
technological society.

As a microbiologist attending an art exhibit looked at a tensegrity
sculpture comprised of rods and ropes in countervailing tension, he
realized it was the answer to why animal cells don't collapse without an
internal skeleton.

The Hollywood actress Hedy Lamar realized that her piano player changed
frequencies rapidly in concert with her singing, and patented the
frequency hopping technique that underlies today's cellular telephones.

Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class at Reed
College. "It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way
that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating." Ten years
later, the Macintosh became the first computer with beautiful
typography, and desktop publishing was born.

Robert Lutz, head of General Motor's product development, once stated,
"We're not in the transportation business; we are in the arts and
entertainment business." There is a reality measured in hard dollars to
the ephemeral harmony and elegance of art.

Anyone, worldwide, can clunk together products, but to sell them
requires making them appealing to consumers. Harold Van Doren,
originally an engineer, described the industrial designer's role in the
1930s as: "to...enhance the product's desirability in the eyes of the purchaser
through increased convenience, better adaptability of form to function;
through a shrewd knowledge of consumer psychology and through the
aesthetic appeal of form, colour and texture."

When you buy appliances, clothing, and software, there is a premium on
design, on the interface between the utility and the aesthetic. You
learn to do that from arts education.

Legendary choreographer Martha Graham, when asked about her dance, said
she wanted it to be "felt" rather than "understood." We often think of
the arts as something emotional, something involved with feeling,
something that inspires and relaxes. We may think art is entertainment,
but it is in reality human engineering.

Art is about engineering things so that humans feel they are harmonious
and elegant in their context. Landscaping is about how juxtaposed bushes
and trees together can create harmony and elegance. Architecture is
about how juxtaposing structural elements creates beauty and elegance
out of buildings. Art is the harmonizing of things and context that
creates elegance and beauty.

It seems to me, that the true essence of arts education is teaching what
constitutes harmony and elegance in the relationships and patterns that
things exhibit within their context. Art exercises the predictive
pattern-finding context capabilities of our brains. What a child learns
from an M.C. Escher print is not the frivolity of absurd details, but
the innovation of seeing things deviate from their context in a rational

More importantly, it seems to me that Art is the domain of knowledge
that teaches how not to be slaves to the past, to what has gone before,
nor to our present understandings and predictions. It teaches, instead,
the future. It teaches us to understand our context. It teaches us to
look at things in their context and think about what would happen if we
changed the thing or changed the context.

And very fundamentally this is important because, as a consequence of
rapid changes emerging from science and technology, the world of the
twenty-first century will consist of continuously changing things and
contexts. And very fundamentally, the future of the Earth will require
those who see the innovative solutions to emerging problems far more
than the Earth will require those who know how to engineer them.

Most students will never become an artist in any medium, and technique
is not really the point of arts education. What students learn in arts
education is the skill of looking for patterns and relationships and
exploring the context of those findings through technique.

So, what if we did not teach math and science and only taught the arts?
How impoverished would we be as the world leaders of innovation? As the
world center where technology, outsourced to foreign countries, was
harmonized and configured for humans around the globe? As the
international portal to the future?

This is not to say that we should have the arts kill off the math and
science in the public schools, but we surely should fear that others
would have math and science kill off the arts.

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan recently
warned: "Overwhelmed with the increasing scientific knowledge base, our
universities are going to have to struggle to prevent the liberal arts
curriculum from being swamped by technology and science." The same is
true of Arts education in our K-12 public schools.

- ----------------------------
Michael T. Martin
Research Analyst
Arizona School Boards Association
2100 N. Central Ave, Suite 200
Phoenix, Az 85004
602-254-1100 1-800-238-4701
- --------------------------
Quality Leadership & Advocacy for Children in Public Schools
- --
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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