Friday, November 27, 2009

The Visual Arts ARE NOT an Educational Luxury...

[caption id="attachment_142" align="aligncenter" width="445" caption="16x14x2in.; watercolor, prismacolor pencil, pencil, graphite on birchwood panel 2009"]Primordial Soup #0009 16x14x2in.; watercolor, prismacolor pencil, pencil, graphite on birchwood panel 2009[/caption]

From an article by educator and professor, Daniel Willingham in the Washington Post, quoting Jerry Kagan, on why children don't like school, Six practical reasons arts education is more than a luxury. I paste in the first two reasons:

First, he estimated that something like 95% of children are capable of doing the work necessary to obtain a high school diploma, yet the dropout rate hovers around 25%. Too many of these students quit because they decide (usually in about the fourth grade) that school is not the place for them. This decision is based largely on their perception of their performance in reading and mathematics. The arts, Kagan argues, offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

Second, Kagan argues that children today have very little sense of agency—that is, the sense that they undertake activities that have an impact on the world, however small. Kagan notes that as a child he had the autonomy to explore his town on his own, something that most parents today would not allow. When not exploring, his activities were necessarily of his own design, whereas children today would typically watch television or roam the internet, activities that are frequently passive and which encourage conformity. The arts, Kagan argues, offer that sense of agency, of creation.

Johns Hopkins University and the Dana Foundation hosted a conference titled “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain.” As the title implies, the goal was to bring together researchers considering, from an educational point of view, the impact of the arts on the brain. A book-length summary of the May conference just became available as a free pdf, available here.

As a shy, but extremely curious, very hard-of-hearing girl, art classes and self-guided tours in museums in Chicago gave me the confidence to meet the world. The image is my latest watercolor on birchwood panel, 16x14x1-3/4in., from the "Simkhes Toyre" series.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who Does The Stuff Belong To-Part II...

[caption id="attachment_801" align="alignleft" width="208" caption="Nefertiti, not from around here"]Nefertiti[/caption]

Per a recent article in the New York Times re the ongoing fulminations of the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, demanding that Nefertiti be returned to him, by John Tierney of November 16, 2009, referring to the position of the director of our own Art Institute of ChicagoJames Cuno:

“As the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Cuno has his own obvious motives for acquiring foreign antiquities, and he makes no apology for wanting to display Middle Eastern statues to Midwesterners.”

““It is in the nature of our species to connect and exchange,” Dr. Cuno writes. “And the result is a common culture in which we all have a stake. It is not, and can never be, the property of one modern nation or another.””

The Renaissance, wherein the west climbed out of the dark ages into the light, would not have happened without a serious examination of the Greek and Roman antiquities. It is time for the inheritors of past empires to stop feeling guilty for the wrongs committed in history. Sending Nefertiti to Egypt from the newly rebuilt Neues Museum in Berlin, (which is, by the way, in its own right, a remarkable story of rising out of historical ashes) is in no way a return to a rightful owner, nor does it in any way expiate old sins.

We must all enjoy and learn from our collective histories, not stake out specific territories of ethno-centric meaning. Down that path is cultural isolation, down that path is the destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan, for instance.