Friday, October 02, 2009

Arts and the Creation of Mind

I am reading a book by Elliot Eisner, Arts and the Creation of Mind. Most books go preaching to the choir, and perhaps you and I are the very small choir. But finding others who reinforce our positions is important in finding the language necessary to build strength for educational reform. And so I quote from Eisner's introduction to this important text:
One aim of the Arts and the Creation of mind is to dispel the idea that the arts are somehow intellectually undemanding, emotive rather than reflective operations done with the hand somehow unattached to the head. In the following pages I advance quite a different view. I argue that many of the most complex and subtle forms of thinking take place when students have an opportunity either to work meaningfully on the creation of images -- whether visual, choreographic, musical, literary, or poetic -- or to scrutinize them appreciatively. To be able to create a form of experience that can be regarded as aesthetic requires a mind that animates our imaginative capacities and that promotes our ability to undergo emotionally pervaded experience. Perception is, in the end, a cognitive event. What we see is not simply a function of what we take from the world, but what we make of it.
Fair use, copyright laws would make me hesitant to quote more, though the richness of thought in this book presents a temptation. The following is Eisner's more widely published list of "Ten lessons the arts teach":
The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor number exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.

The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.
And so, it may come as know surprise to some that the arts have been abandoned in many schools. The arts empower children to think in new ways, to recognize that there are no absolute right and wrong answers, and to see the value of diversity. And the arts make kids smarter, leading kids to think for themselves and become more expressive and more dangerous to the status quo. Pretty scary, don't you think? (sarcasm intended)


  1. Anonymous1:56 PM

    I took a course in curriculum theory from Eisner in graduate school, and concur with his ideas. But "the choir" in our case are people who have experiential knowledge of what Eisner is talking about. If most people have never experienced real art education, how can we get them to politically and financially support this endeavor? Some of my work involves looking for the "hard evidence" that could convince policy makers of his claims.

  2. It is really hard to convince policy makers of things they really aren't interested in believing. The hard evidence has been out there for a long time connecting TV and a range of childhood, school related, and health related issues. But there is no will to address even such a simple thing as that. We seem to be driven only by money. If we had higher values, we would reduce class sizes to make schools more effective. And we would tell parents to shut down TV during important study hours. And we would put arts and craft at the center of education instead of barely hanging on at the fringe.

    The hard evidence is important, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with.