Philosophy of Education
Asher Mains, MFA
The purpose of this statement is to outline my personal theory of teaching and learning. As an overall approach I stress process over product because I believe that good processes are ultimately what lead to productive work. I also believe in measuring success in the classroom according to progress versus proficiency. By this I mean that if I can see technical and conceptual improvement in the semester from a student it shows that they have been engaging with the material and learning versus establishing an arbitrary standard that each student is expected to realize. This allows me as an educator to challenge both exceptional and struggling students according to reach their highest potential.
The Value of Art Education
My general approach with art education is that learning to think like an artist can improve any other field and can lead to a more complete experience as a human. Understanding foundational elements of colour and design, for example, can lead to better website design, better presentations and more elegant solutions as students learn to communicate visually. Doctors and veterinarians are more effective if they are able to show what a problem may be as opposed to only being able to describe. Further, studies have shown that different parts of the brain are activated when students are required to use drawing as a way of learning, i.e. most students at some point are required to draw the parts of a cell in biology. Art education opens up other avenues in pedagogy as humans typically read images 60,000 times faster than text and 65% of a general population are visual learners versus 30% who learn by hearing (Bradford & William C. 2004) . Learning to read and create effective images is at the heart of a broader, progressive, educational strategy and art is squarely at the centre as it is primarily concerned with understanding images through design, cultural context, individual perception, and aesthetics.
While the contribution and application of art education is broad, I also believe in teaching students to think like artists versus being able to create virtuoso pieces of art. Learning to think like an artist involves learning to read the images by building up a visual vocabulary. It also involves cultivating divergent, or “outside the box” thinking. Artists learn to critically engage material through thinking through different conceptual frameworks and have to have some knowledge or awareness of history, sociology and culture as they think through their own work or looking at a piece from art history. Learning to think like an artist, according to many studies, can cause your brain to restructure itself and create connections where there were none before. Cultivating a regular practice of engaging images can cause the brain to situate the interpretation of images in the frontal and parietal lobes as opposed to primarily in the visual cortex. The advantages of fostering a brain that is more open to empathy, for example, is one of the strengths of art education because there are few subjects where students actively think about how to make their audience feel something.
As an integrative response, inspiration involves not only higher cortical circuitry but its integration with the deep brain structures such as limbic system and medial frontal structures, which are understood to mediate the experience of emotions, motivational rewards, and the appreciation of the esthetic values of the impinging stimuli. In this sense, inspiration can turn almost any occupation in life into an avocation, a source of satisfaction in achieving life goals. Conversely, when inspiration is lacking, the motivation to learn, adapt, and prosper is impeded. Thus, inspiration may be viewed as a potent aspect of human experience in linking art and science. (Tyler & Likova 2012)
Art from a local context
Aside from the value of producing and consuming art physiologically and in the context of different respective spheres, there is sociological value in recognizing cultural hegemony through the art and culture we consume and the idea that as producers of culture, it is particularly important to be engaged within the region in managing our own cultural narrative through production. As much as possible, I recognise the dominance of Western philosophy and thought throughout traditional art history but whenever able, I resonate with Rex Nettleford, that it is the role of cultural producers in the region to engage in the dynamic and ongoing process of “adjustments, rejection, affirmation and innovation.” which has been central to the Caribbean experience since the Conquest (Nettleford 1979). I propose teaching art history, for example, from a global, thematic approach rather than solely positioned within the Western narrative. Partially in re-thinking art history in terms of its everyday context but also in response to the multicultural population at St. George’s University, we are serving our students better if art history is taught dynamically and contextually. It is also through this approach that we have a better understanding of artists as cultural producers. Artists in any society have an important role as Trinidadian artist, Peter Minshall said,
“Consider the things for which a people are regarded or remembered. Consider all the historic peoples and nations from the Egyptians to the Greeks, the Romans, India, China, Africa, Western Europe, the primitive and the sophisticated. For all the industry and commerce and military might the possessed, it is not for these things that they are primarily and quintessentially remembered, but for their art, for their paint, literature, music, theatre, philosophy, dance, sculpture and architecture. The creative expressions of a people are what represent it to the rest of the world.”
As a Grenadian artist and educator, I believe it is important to teach art in a way that students understand 1.) the global conversation/tone concerning art, 2.) understand how the Caribbean is typically interpreted from the outside, 3.) learn to create art that situates our conversations where we want to have them and 4.) to steadily develop, educate, engage, and enrich our local population through what we are able to communicate through art.
I think it important in art education for students to know local and regional artists but also to read texts by writers such as Alister Hughes, V.S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott, Édouard Glissant, Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, and Stuart Hall, amongst others. As a supplement to cultural or Caribbean Studies I believe that these literary influences help to shape a certain identity in our region that we have to be aware of when producing critical pieces of art. Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish artist, says, “…be very sensitive to where they are, in what times, in what part of the world and how that constitutes their artistic practice, their artistic inquiry.” (Eliasson 2014). There are times, in light of this idea that I tell students that when we are considering how to make good art, we have to have interesting materials and good stories. Our artwork should look like it has been affected by where we live and who we live with. This idea produces work that feels authentic and is more likely to be relatable to our audiences. In Grenada we have good materials and we have good stories – let’s get to work.
Ernst Fischer in, The Necessity of Art, describes the role of the artist, “The artist’s task was to expound the profound meaning of events to his fellow men, to make plain to them the process, the necessity, and the rules of social and historical development, to solve for them the riddle of the essential relationships between man and nature and man and society” (Fisher 1971). It is with this in mind and with an active artistic practice of my own that I am able to formulate curriculum and studio/classroom scenarios where I emphasise the role of art in making better observations, engaging in deeper critical thought, and asking questions where as artists and citizens, we can imagine a better way.
Bradford, and William C. “Reaching the Visual Learner: Teaching Property Through Art.” By Jikun Huang, Ruifa Hu, Scott Rozelle, Fangbin Qiao, Carl E. Pray :: SSRN, 10 Sept. 2004, papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=587201.
Fischer, Ernst. The Necessity of Art: a Marxist Approach. Penguin Books, 1970.
“Olafur Eliasson: Advice to the Young.” LockerDome. Ed. Kamilla Bruus. Marc-Christoph Wagner, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Nettleford, Rex. Caribbean Cultural Identity. Center for Afro-American Studies and UCLA Latin American Center, 1979.
Tyler, Christopher W., and Lora T. Likova. “The Role of the Visual Arts in Enhancing the Learning Process.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Feb. 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3274761/.