Monday, November 17, 2008

The Power of Art

I found Arnheim's discussion of artists in this chapter very interesting, particularly the part where he discussed how an artist is able to express "the nature and meaning of an experience" while "the non-artist is left 'speechless' by the fruits of his sensitive wisdom" (169).  He goes on to say that the non-artist "can express himself, more or less articulately, but not his experience."  He then says, "During the moments in which a human being is an artist, he finds shape for the bodiless structure of what he has felt" (169).  I find this very interesting, being an artist myself.  I have always taken great joy in utilizing art to express things that I cannot say in words.  It is like the Georgia O'Keeffe quote I used in my first post, "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way...things I had no words for."  Sometimes I can put an idea to words, but it is better expressed in a painting.  I think this is interesting when thinking of things like art therapy and analyzing children's art.  The lovely thing about being a child is that no matter how "good" of an artist you are, you are encouraged to draw and your work is praised.  I wish that it stayed that way throughout our entire lives, because I think that visual expression is a gift, and there should be no measure of "good" and "bad;" we should all feel free to use art to express ourselves.

Another quote I thought of during this reading was one by Pablo Picasso:  "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."  This is especially interesting after this week's reading focusing on children's art.  Did Picasso really paint like a child?  Was that literally his goal, or were there just certain elements from children's art that he was attracted to?  Clearly after this week's reading, what is going through a child's brain while drawing is very different than what is going through an adult's brain, so perhaps as an adult, it is nearly impossible to truly draw like a child.  I just thought this was an interesting quote and one to ponder what exactly Picasso meant by that.

Purposes of Children's Art

I was very interested in Arnheim’s discussion of some of many of the theories about children’s art, mainly the artificial distinction between the use of conceptual and perceptual processing in children’s drawing. Conceptual understanding would cause children to represent “the overall qualities of objects.” Perceptual understanding would rely on a child representing what they see. In reality, children usually leave out many details and this does not mean that they do not perceive them. Arnheim reminds us that visual perception does not encompass “the totality of individual appearance,” but in the “grasping of global structural features.” Our visual perception, and thus our art, reflects our gestalt perception. In addition, art emphasize different aspect of our visual processing system and is concerned with the purposes of the art for the artist.
In studying children’s art for conference work I have come upon all kinds of psychological measure attempting to qualify children's art in terms of cognitive or emotional development. Such standards absolutely do not take into account the range of conceptual, perceptual, and representational concepts that the child is attending to simultaneously. For example, tests that measure cognitive development are often concerned with the quantity of body parts depicted in children’s human figure drawing. A five-year-old student of mine decided to include ears in a family portrait last week. However, he told me he was not giving ears to his mother or sister because “you can’t see them so good.” I think this was a great examples of how a child may be using a range of perceptual and conceptual measures in the artistic process that could are easily misconstrued by the inattentive tester or teacher.
Arnheim writes “[t]he discipline of intelligent vision cannot be confined to the art studio; it can succeed only if the visual sense is not blunted and confused in other areas of the curriculum. To try to establish an island of visual literacy in an ocean of blindness is ultimately self-defeating. Visual thinking is indivisible (206).” I think that this is particularly relevant as we begin to explore the intersections of art and science in the Kemp readings. I think that visual arts can also be confined by making assumptions about the purposes of art and the intentions of the artist. The cognitive psychologist sees only cognitive development in the child’s art. The psychoanalyst sees only unconscious expression in the child’s art. The teacher sees only pre-literacy skills. This fracturing of intention does not take into account the full meaning of the art, and of art in general.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Perceptual Development and Education

This weeks reading on connecting developmental theory with gestalt struck a chord with me because of some work I did last year with the kindergarten class at the ECC. The consideration of the student’s perceptual identity was particularly important for me because I would conduct art lessons with them once every two weeks or so. Whenever there was “art time” when I was in the classroom, I was put “in charge” of this as well.
All of the specific lessons I did were related to the subject matter governing the curriculum at the time. For example, during the month or so when the student’s were learning about the human body, we explored the art of making pictorial diagrams of different parts of the human body. Another good example is a lesson me and another teacher guided together, where we created origami airplanes, jet planes, and rockets to creatively understand the ideas of flying machines.
When I was reading this chapter I found the majority of what Arnheim was saying about the inclination toward simplicity to be true. However, in the first half of the reading I couldn’t help but be reminded of the countless times when the students would beg me to draw something for them, or draw an example for them. They were seemingly frustrated at their level of motor functioning, and wanted to draw reality as they saw it. This disconnect was elaborated on in his section on “obliqueness”; “Obliqueness is always perceived as a deviation, hence its strong dynamic character. It introduces into the visual medium the vital difference between static and dynamic shapes, still undifferentiated in the earlier phase.” (Arnheim pages 187-188) The process of mastering obliqueness seems to be cognitively understood first, and after a time of exploration (which includes some frustrating “failures”), realized physically in the child’s artwork.
The next definitive elaboration on the mental strife a child goes through during perceptual growth is in his section on “educational consequences”. Experientially, I understood the difficulty he speaks of on the part of the teacher. This difficulty generally being; knowing the balance between showing your student how to do something and allowing them figure it out on their own. “…to teach everything and to teach nothing.” (Arnheim page 204) This balance is definitely hard to achieve, but as I believe Arnheim to be saying, the stress should not be placed in your identity as a teacher, but in the reactions to your student’s identity. “…all teaching should be based on an awareness that the student’s visual conception is growing in accordance with principles of its own, and that the teacher’s interventions should be guided by what the individual process of growth calls for at any given time.” (Arnheim page 205) Arnheim then goes on to discuss the conflict between social urges and the demands of what is best for the development of the individual. I found this to be the hardest confliction to react to as a teacher. I suppose Arnheim’s advice for me would be summed up by this quote, “Such social motives must be distinguished from the cognitive motives that arise from the state of the student’s visual development. The former must not be gratified at the expense of the latter.” (Arnheim page 205) For me, the most interesting part of that last quotation is the word “gratified”. My maternal instincts with the student’s were to do just that. I found it intuitively sound to want to instantly boost a student’s level of confidence by showing them how to do something instead of allowing them to painstakingly figure it out for themselves. The idea that as a teacher one must separate themselves from this natural response a bit (but not entirely, as Arnheim does stress the idea of balance) for the betterment of their student’s comprehension is hard to swallow at first, but nonetheless a very efficient model.