Wednesday, November 09, 2011

how to preserve the arts...

Today I am going to a preview opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is a fabulous new museum dedicated to bringing some of the greatest American art to my own state, so we are very excited about it. Some of my small boxes will be sold in the museum gift store, and some of my students had helped me make a walnut bench from wood cut from the site as the initial ground work was done.

According to Charles A. Bennett, author of the Manual Arts published in 1917,
"The two direct results of instruction in the manual arts are, first, power to do, and second, ability to appreciate what is done by others... Froebel tells us that "man only understands thoroughly that which he is able to produce." Accepting this statement as fact, we see that it is only through mastery of processes, tools and materials, color, form and values, laws of construction and harmony, that we can completely understand any masterpiece of art or handicraft. And we know from experience that such mastery is exceedingly difficult to acquire."
In other words, there are two ways that great works in museums are secured. One is with walls and curators, the other is within the hands, minds and hearts of those whom we would hope to attract to those museums. We cannot hope to gain active participation in preservation of great art from those who know so very little about the making of it.

Bennett suggests that because we cannot teach children all the valuable techniques required to appreciate great art, we have taken another track.
"We throw aside the philosophy of Froebel and work to store our minds with facts about the arts, in the hope that by this means we may reach our goal of appreciation. We search the latest books and magazines. We read what Mr. A. says of the opinion expressed by Mr. B. concerning the work of Mr. C. We find that Mr. D. does not agree with either Mr. A. or Mr. B. on several important points, and we take little satisfaction in knowing their combined opinion. When we are honest with ourselves we admit that we do not appreciate the real thing they are writing about... We can talk "arts and crafts style" or we can discuss the report of the latest exhibition, and quote good authorities too, but we are conscious of the fact that this is not appreciation. We know that appreciation involved feeling, and and this newspaper reading has begotten no art feeling in us. We would not only know about art, but we would feel--we would respond to the influence of the art;; we would have the artist's emotions transmitted to us, and this we find does not come about thru the medium of the words merely. We must see and touch and do; we must get our knowledge first-hand; we must learn thru experience. In learning about the art we have avoided the thing itself..."
By teaching art history and art appreciation without actually making anything, we may offer some students a false sense of academic mastery over the arts.

It is my belief that to do something really well, whether it is in the arts or music, offers insight into human culture and creativity, that serves as a platform for the appreciation of other arts (or crafts) as one learns the process through which the person is shaped by the creative process. But to leave students untouched by this process may leave the whole of human creative and cultural legacy at risk. In answer to this dilemma, some art teachers would propose a smorgasbord offering of the arts, for students to dabble within. That is better than no arts at all, but in order for students to fully understand great art, it is important for them to work in the direction of mastering some specific craft or art. Yesterday in cutting dovetails, one of my students asked, "Don't they make a machine for this?" Is that where we would find the most growth?

On another topic, Fine Woodworking ran a contest to win a copy of my book Building Small Cabinets. One hundred ninety six readers competed, and one copy was given away to a lucky winner. I've extended the contest with one more copy, but as a special bonus this one will be signed. If you want to enter to win a signed copy of Building Small Cabinets, go to this Fine Woodworking blog post and and leave a comment.

Make, fix and create...

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