Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A plea for visual (and active) thinking

The following is from Rudolf Arnheim in has essay, "A Plea for Visual Thinking,"Critical Inquiry
Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), pp. 489-497
Perception and thinking are treated by textbooks of psychology in separate chapters. The senses are said to gather information about the outer world; thinking is said to process that information. Thinking emerges from this approach as the "higher," more respectable function, to which consequently education assigns most of the school hours and most of the credit. The exercise of the senses is a mere recreation, relegated to spare time. It is left to the playful practice of the arts and music and is readily dispensed with when a tight budget calls for economy. --Rudolf Arnheim
A pin oak box illustrating space and proportion
Psychologists, in hoping to come to an understanding of human development have described it as taking place in stages. For example Jerome Bruner had noted that the child first engages the world through action, then through imagery, and finally through language. That view is short-sighted in that it fails to recognize that all three means retain their significance in human understanding. We don't grow from one level to another as an exercise in mutual exclusivity. We never outgrow the need to engage the world through action. We never outgrow the necessity to test what we've learned from the world through what we do to it. And that too is a process of thought, the meaning of which seems to to have been lost among those too-long sequestered within the self-congratulatory framework of intellectualism. Descartes may have said, "I think, therefore I am," but when he woke up with that notion the was forgetting the woman who served him breakfast, and he was forgetting breakfast itself.

When Educational Sloyd principles required that students move from the known to the unknown the idea was not that they stay there without connection to the previously known. The principles of moving from the simple to the complex or from the concrete to the abstract did not mean that once moved from simplicity and concrete experience, that the student would be best served by hanging out in that virtually empty space, but instead must build a coherent framework of useful knowledge.

When we are actively engaged in thinking with our whole bodies through the making of beautiful and useful things, we are involved in learning and thought that transcends the limited capacity of language, and yet, in schools, it is thought that language and facility in language is the almighty all.

Learning that is not active is little more than a game of trivial pursuit with diplomas.

Make, fix and create...

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