Quotes from the Field, Volume 2

Yayoi Kusama’s The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, 2015, exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, ACT, Australia. Photograph by Ncysea, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

This is another edition (see: Quotes from the Field) of inspirational quotes from practitioners of the visual arts, which can be utilized within an educational framework. After each quote, I contextualize the message in terms of how it relates to key pedagogical theories, ideas and practices. This volume features quotes from Jasper Johns, Yayoi Kusama, Anselm Kiefer and Helen Frankenthaler.

“Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it. [Repeat.]” – Jasper Johns

Through this quote, Johns astutely expressed the basic tenets of both art and education, which is that everyone learns and perceives things differently through an experiential process. In the artist’s studio, creativity is diversified and expressed through a combination of aesthetic and cognitive elements. Artists often revise their work and even change direction completely while they are working on a project. Sometimes, the exploratory relationship of working with a material is largely responsible for a shift in focus or an ‘ah-hah’ moment. In the educator’s classroom, instruction is differentiated in a way that engages students’ multiple intellegences (see: Differentiation and Multiple Intelligences) and makes learning relevant for a diverse student body.

Artists have a unique role within civilization as creators of experiences and symbolic imagery. These manifestations, reflect an essence of the time and place in which they were conceived. Re-presenting and re-framing ideas within a fluctuating period of time is the crux of human development. As a society at large, we are in a contemporaneous discourse with the past, present and future. Conceptual ideas and aesthetic imagery can be interpreted many different ways, therefore it is important to maintain a constant sense of exploration, discovery and insight throughout our creative endeavors.

In the educational realm, challenging students to re-present their ideas through a variety of different mediums and via a multitude of self-directed processes, can bolster their confidence and visual vocabulary. Having students explore the nearly limitless gamut of their creativity by prompting differentiation and flexible thinking takes bold leaps towards their understanding of how to take on ambitious tasks in all aspects of life. Having the ability and understanding of communicating similar viewpoints through an extensive range of processes enables us to be better understood and get our message across to a collective of people who all think and perceive differently.

“More and more, I think about the role of the arts, and as an artist, I think that it’s important that I share the love and peace.” – Yayoi Kusama

The arts are an essential discipline for exhibiting empathy and expressing messages of hope, love, perseverance and togetherness. Artists do not work in a vacuum, rather, they are highly contributing members of the culture at large. Art is a communication tool, which helps us to connect to one another in uniquely personal ways. Works of art help us understand and relate to the world around us and assign value and meaning to various modes of experiences. A good work of art impacts the viewer on a visceral and rational level. Art education is therefore essential because it combines social, emotional, intellectual and experiential learning. Learning through art helps us become well rounded human beings who can think both concretely and abstractly.

“What does the artist do? He draws connections. He ties the invisible threads between things. He dives into history, be it the history of mankind, the geological history of the Earth or the beginning and end of the manifest cosmos.” – Anselm Kiefer

Making connections is one of the studio habits of mind (see: Educating Through Art) that we hone through artistic engagement. The artist is a synthesizer and an alchemist of experiential life, prior knowledge and innovative new concepts. Artists delve into their subject matter in a manner akin to the way a scientist utilizes the scientific method, or a historian makes use of primary and secondary sources. Artistic thinking means being critical, inquisitive and seamlessly bridging the gap between the past, present and future.

“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.” – Helen Frankenthaler
Artists make judgements in the absence of rules (Eisner, 2002), which means that they are adept at thinking outside of the box. Art education should inspire student’s abilities to improvise and embrace ambiguity. They should realize that mistakes can be turned into art and that they should look at failure as a motivating principle to try alternative angles to the same problem in order to find what the American philosopher Nelson Goodman described as “rightness of fit.” Artists do this by using their intuition and trusting in themselves, paying attention to the subtleties of their process and assessing or reflecting upon the consequences of their actions. Employing these steps inform them as to whether their results are successful or if they need to revise their process and make new choices.

Do you have a favorite quote on art, which also can relate to learning? Comment below or contact me.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Eisner, Elliot W. (2002). ‘What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education?’ The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. http://www.infed.org/biblio/eisner_arts_and_the_practice_of_education.htm

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