Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Awakening the aesthetic sense, not ‘teaching’ art

Culture has direct link with aesthetic sense, creativity and the respective ecology in which people live and connect. In fact beauty is the link that connects people to their environment. Cultural diversity has been the result of diverse aesthetic sensibilities developed in people as a result of living in diverse ecological conditions. This act of authentic living is itself act of knowledge creation.
Modern education not only kills creativity but also kills the cultural diversity as it ignores the two most important aspects of knowledge creation, which is the biological process involved in making sense of the world  and the need to connect with the space in which they live.
So naturally the biggest concern about the present main stream education is that it kills creativity. And the frenzy with which ‘art’ is being introduced seems to me an attempt to counter these damages.  But schools and ‘schooling’ not only kills creativity, it also kills authenticity, cultural diversity and  aesthetic sense.
And teaching or schooling per se could be the cause irrespective of what is being taught.
Revisiting the fundamentals
To begin with it is important to revisit some basic issues that are being taken for granted like what is the purpose of beauty in human life? Just as what is the purpose of knowledge in human life.

It is also important to go deeper in to some of these basic issues like what is creativity, how exactly does schooling destroys it and what is art, how is art going to counter the destruction of creativity etc.
Before we go in to the above raised issues let us also look at what has been achieved by the teaching of art, architecture and design at the graduate levels.
The visual experience of modern spaces all over the world is beginning to look alike- Architecture, signage, hoardings, products, colour sense. Homogenization of aesthetic sense brought about through education is destroying all cultural diversity.
What is culture then? How does culture gets transmitted? How is cultural diversity preserved?
About a century ago we had diverse cultures with distinct way of life and aesthetic sensibilities that created contextually rooted architecture and artifacts. The learning process that ensured this needs to be revisited as the present education has created total homogenization all over the world. The design and architectural education can be blamed as one of the most destructive agent for destroying diversity, leading to similar lifestyle. Courses taken from the experience of western culture-  Bauhaus, Ulm being the foundation of design education all over the world has psychologically damaged the being at all levels - aping the west, inferiority complex, cultural insensitivity and other cognitive damages. This is true of art and architectural education also.
The real issue then is understand how to retain the cultural diversity and help the learner to retain their original, authentic sense of beauty which is in true sense based on the experience of the real context in which they lead their lives.

To my mind ‘art’ education if that as treated as ‘awakening the sense/ aesthetic sensibilities’ has the potential of making children authentic and original learners/creators.
But art education is also becoming top down and information oriented. Once I came across a school where children were being asked to copy paintings of Van Gogh. In fact the trend in art education in UK is along this line. Tests are conducted to see whether children are able to identify works of Monet, Paul klee .
Art is the only activity with in the school curriculum that has the potential for subverting the harm done by other subjects.
Senses which is our doors to the outer world and also to the inner world is what needs to be addressed and that too in a manner that would enhance the inherent, natural, biological tendency in all human beings to be in beauty and to know. 

Work with traditional potters
From 1993 I have been working with a potters community and tried out my experiment with them, See the designs created by 13/14/15 year’s old girls.
You can also see some of work by Lakshmi who has no exposure to ‘art’ books, galleries. 

By 2000   I also began to work with children.   Again following the principles of non interference (Other word is  ‘teaching’) children began to create absolutely beautiful stuff.  
Sensing Nature; Knowing Nature
Sensing Nature; Knowing Nature is a workshop we have been conducting from 2003 at Aruvacode , Nilambur during the summer holidays – April and May. This year about 40 children of the age 5 to 15 from the village attended the workshop. 
Each and every time children have proved that they are born genius and they need to be left alone to make sense of the world. 
Senses connects not only to knowledge but also to the beauty of living. Sensitivity is in a way is matter of the awakening of the senses and feelings. 
The fundamental issues we raise through this event is the 'nature of learning, biologically embedded aesthetic sense in children, role of the 'teacher', do nothing method etc. It looks like that we are already born with aesthetic sense. I think this is our connection to the world and the way we conduct our lives provided we leave that to the nature in all of us. 
The work shop on sensing nature is for providing space to come together to listen, to see, to taste, to touch, feel, to make etc. There is no teaching. 

Colour scale with dry leaves helps children to be observant of colours in nature. Children mix colour on their own from the six basic colures (red, blue, yellow, green, black and white) with no help from adults.
 (Above 3 images ) Scenery using dry leaves and (below) with colored paper

Development of aesthetic sense which is the basis for all art forms seems to me the most important aspect to be explored as this would equip the student to pursue any art form at any time depending on the individuals interest and opportunities that might prop up. Rather than learning skills to sing, paint, draw etc this would make a qualitative and an attitudinal change. Teaching is not called for but by providing an environment that would allow the natural in us to come forth. 
This would require sensitivity, trust and indeed careful planning for the unplanned to happen.
I draw the following conclusion from my experience.
1.      Beauty is a biological aspect with our body/being and Art is a psychological construct.
2.      Beauty is not something to be developed separately but to be present as part of our being, which gets awakened in the process of engaging with the world.
3.      Beauty is the most fundamental of human existence. Beauty is what truly makes one authentic. Beauty is what binds us to the external world. Beauty is what creates culture-the architecture, the music, the artifacts, various dance forms and agriculture.
4.      De-colonization and de-conditioning  process  is essentially a process of recovering ones authentic sense of beauty and reclaiming ones senses.
5.      All art forms have a basis in other senses and aesthetic sense is developed in the process of aesthetic /part hand engagement with the world.
6.      Rather than ‘teaching’ art what one should do is to create situations for awakening the aesthetic awareness.
7.      Children are born genius – (Genuine) artistic/scientific/spiritual/holistic.
8.    Learn from them.   They can tell us how far we have moved from our original/ natural selves.
9.      Creativity happens in innocence and humility something we have lost in the process of getting ‘educated’.
10.  Human beings are in some sense the most helpless and with enormous capacity for self deception...
Every generation needs to relive, relearn, recreate and reinvent certain aspects of its cultural sensibilities by engaging with the reality around them.
Contextually rooted aesthetic sense is what once created the diverse cultures around the globe.


The main write up is from my personal experience of living with the rural tribal communities and from the documentation and research done to understand how children as well as non literate artisans learn.
Many philosophers, thinkers, scientists and teachers have helped me to understand these issues. Among them the prominent are as follows. Ivan Illich, John Holt, John Taylor ghetto, Maria Montessori, Dr. Humberto Maturana (the Chilean School of Biology of Cognition)

1 comment:

  1. I like this thought process Jinan. At one time I perceived the tyranny of the established processes that did not allow anyone to step beyond mediocracy that was dictated by requirements of the 'system'. As usual, to 'see more' is the mark of the dangerous subversive. Institutions survive by keeping the constituent components within strict bounds...a time honoured technique. There is no 'one way' to do a thing, there may be a convenient way, or an accepted way, but if we ask the profound question, 'are you a green frog?', the possibilities are myriad.