Thursday, November 01, 2007

Horace Mann: The Value of Instruction in Drawing, 1843:
…I passed from countries where almost every pupil in every school could draw with ease, and most of them with no inconsiderable degree of beauty and expression, to those where less and less attention was paid to the subject; and at last, to schools where drawing was not practiced at all; and after many trials, I came to the conclusion, that with no other guide than a mere inspection of the copy books of the pupils, I could tell whether drawing were taught in the school or not; so uniformly superior was the handwriting in those schools where drawing was taught in connection with it. On seeing this, I was reminded of that saying of Pestalozzi, somewhat too strong, that “without drawing there can be no writing.”

But suppose it were otherwise, and that learning to draw retarded the acquisition of good penmanship, how richly would the learner be compensated for the sacrifice. Drawing of itself is an expressive and beautiful language. A few strokes of the pen or pencil will often represent to the eye what no amount of words, however well chosen, can communicate. For the master architect, for the engraver, the engineer, the pattern designer, the draughtsman, moulder, machine builder, or head mechanic of any kind, all acknowledge that this art is essential and indispensable. But there is no department of business or condition in life, where the accomplishment would not be a utility. Every man should be able to plot a field, to sketch a road or a river, to draw the outlines of simple machine, a piece of household furniture, or a farming utensil, and to delineate the internal arrangement or construction of a house.

But to be able to represent by lines and shadows what no words can depict is only a minor part of the benefit of learning to draw. The study of this art develops the talent of observing, even more than that of delineating. Although a man may have but comparatively few occasions to picture forth what he has observed, yet the power of observation should be cultivated by every rational being. The skillful delineator is not only able to describe far better what he has seen, but he sees twice as many things in the world as he would otherwise do. To one whose eyes have never been accustomed to mark the form, color or peculiarities of objects, all external nature is enveloped in a haze, which no sunshine, however bright, will ever dissipate. The light which dispels this obscurity must come from within. Teaching a child to draw, then, is the development in him of a new talent, the conferring upon him, as it were, of a new sense by means of which he is not only better enabled to attend to the common duties of life, and to be more serviceable to his fellow-men, but he is more likely to appreciate the beauties and magnificence of nature, which everywhere reflect the glories of the Creator into his soul.
Drawing is one of those hand things that we think is no longer needed in education. Now we have computers to do all the writing and drawing for us. Will computers do all the observing, too? Will all the wonders of life and of nature be edited and rendered in rectilinear form? Will computers teach us the value of being neat, composed and caring in what we do and and draw forth from us the unique expressive beauty of a well fashioned letter or line?

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