Quotes from the Field, Volume 6

This edition of Quotes From the Field (see previous posts) scrutinizes quotes from artists including Carolee Schneemann, Fred Tomaselli and Allan Kaprow. The common thread that I’ve drawn from each of these quotes is the idea that the arts are not just necessary for artists, but rather, a universally important discipline for building well-rounded social, emotional and cognizant behavior.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 1.42.36 AM
Carolee Schneemann, a detail from Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera (1963/2005)

“Be stubborn and persist, and trust yourself on what you love. You have to trust what you love.” Carolee Schneemann

Art is one of the most important disciplines for communicating uniquely personal issues and subjects that have significant social and emotional relevance. The arts teach us that being passionate and confident are valuable lifelong traits.

The arts also teach us to be determined in following our passions and realizing that our self-expressions are valuable and worthwhile cultural contributions. Thinking like an artist, enables us to focus deeply (internally and externally) on ourselves and the world around us.

Living an art-centered life should empower us to ‘think big’ and take risks that will allow us to develop a socially engaged mindset. The arts, like every other discipline, takes time to develop efficiently, however, the efficacious feeling as a result of all the hard and challenging work we put in, is worth the effort. Art offers an array of benefits, which are pertinent to everyone. For example, art can be a source of respite, entertainment, catharsis, self-discovery (and of course learning!) and healing. When we think and act artfully, we employ creativity in all other aspects of our lives.

“We don’t necessarily need so many artists. I recommend that many of the people who think they want to be artists should go into the American Friends Service Committee, or do government outreach to communities that don’t have water, or that need seeds or ecological assistance. It would create a system in which people with engaged sensibilities and potential insight assist instead of imposing. I think it could leap right out of the art world into wonderful community action.” – Carolee Schneemann

While this quote may sound like the antithesis of a blog based on art and education, it is actually one of the most relevant quotes in regards to how artfully learning extends far beyond the art world and/or classroom.

Throughout this blog, I suggest ways that thinking and doing things through an artistic lens can facilitate well-rounded and mindful sensibilities. Having an artistic sensibility means being able to make cross-cultural connections, think outside of the box, embrace ambiguity and exhibit empathy (to name a few). Each of these habits of mind are transferable to any and all factors of life.

There are many informed opinions, as well as research stating that professionals in other disciplines should embrace the arts in order to bring a more personal and humanistic element to their work. Skorton (2014) describes how the arts make conveying complex scientific research more relatable to the masses. He mentions that having artistic knowledge and experience is very helpful in making esoteric principles utilitarian, compelling and relevant:

“What we really need is a much broader humanistic education for scientists (and nonscientists), beginning in K–12 education and continuing through the undergraduate/graduate and professional years. It is through the study of art, music, literature, history and other humanities and social sciences that we gain a greater understanding of the human condition than biological or physical science alone can provide (Skorton, 2014).”

Many professionals would benefit from the studio habits of mind (see: Educating Through Art) taught to us through art. For example, the ability to exhibit empathy while synthesizing very important socially engaged policy into a personal and affecting manner, is something that the arts do well (see: Activating Art and Education for Activism). Making deep and meaningful connections between quantitative data and the communities that are impacted and being able to communicate information repletely, is another skill that is gained through artistic modules. It takes just as much creativity to be an influential activist as it does to paint a picture. Being able to generate change is the crux of art and community service, each require creative problem solving, the development and expression of empathy and the ability to make authentic connections (all studio habits of mind).

Furthermore, if your job is a source of high stress, studies have shown that just 45 minutes of creativity can lower cortisol, a stress-related hormone (Drexel University, 2016). In fact, United Kingdom Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, wants doctors to start prescribing artistic experiences (such as museum visits and art classes/workshops) to their patients (see: Jones, 2018).

“I think what great art does is it makes you pay attention.” – Fred Tomaselli

Whether you choose to become an artist or a surgeon, having exposure to the arts and artistic development is a key ingredient to acquiring essential skills, which are beneficial to many different subjects, disciplines and practices.

In fact, there was a recent article published revealing how artistic habits of mind can impact medical students. The article cites a study showing how “looking at artworks can help future doctors hone their observation skills, maintain objectivity and cope with moments of uncertainty” (Lesser, 2018).

I’ve written extensively about ‘studio habits of mind,’ which are indicative of the profound experiences and knowledge that we gain from participating in creating and viewing art. Because artistic engagement is an embodied and experiential process, it requires us to be deeply connected with what we see, hear, feel, etc. Noticing deeply and paying attention to details is a skill, best honed through art that is transferable to all other disciplines. In the instance of the medical students, reflecting upon works of art helped them to strengthen their observational skills, recognize personal bias and embrace ambiguity (another studio habit of mind).

“The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct as possible.” – Allan Kaprow

This quote by Kaprow and the aforementioned quotes from Shneemann and Tomaselli, affirm the thought that art is intrinsic to the human experience. As Dewey (1934) states, art should not be detached from the objects and experiences in everyday life. Making art intrinsic to the human experience gives it the potential to be transformative throughout society. If we understand that everything and everyone has the ability to experience and partake in artful moments, then we can all be more aware of our shared spaces and be creatively bold in our interactions with the world around us.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019) who lived an artful life and inspired countless others to do so as well.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Dewey, John. 1934. Art as Experience. New York : Minton, Balch & Company.

Drexel University. “Stress-related hormone cortisol lowers significantly after just 45 minutes of art creation.” PsyPost. 15 Jun. 2015. https://www.psypost.org/2016/06/skill-level-making-art-reduces-stress-hormone-cortisol-43362?fbclid=IwAR0RuFbxyt8txhLrk_9CbjJ_ogSYQaaWH4mvUo1kXr2HYeqVjjPCm-W1VTw#.XGzf_eQuJIQ.facebook

Jones, Josh. “British Doctors To Prescribe Arts & Culture to Patients: “The Arts Are Essential to our Health and Wellbeing.” Open Culture. 12 Nov. 2018. http://www.openculture.com/2018/11/british-doctors-prescribe-arts-culture-patients-arts-essential-health-wellbeing.html

Lesser, Casey. “Looking at Art Could Help Med Students Become Better Doctors.” Artsy. 27 Nov. 2018. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-art-help-med-students-better-doctors?utm_medium=email&utm_source=15243368-newsletter-editorial-daily-11-28-18&utm_campaign=editorial&utm_content=st-V

Rist, Pipilotti. “Carolee Schneeman’s art is not made for your comfort.” Interview. 16 Oct. 2017. https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/carolee-schneemanns-art-is-not-made-for-your-comfort

Samet, Jennifer. “Beer with a Painter: Fred Tomaselli.” Hyperallergic. 19 Jan. 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/480526/beer-with-a-painter-fred-tomaselli/?fbclid=IwAR2-VzO8GTBJSwEPhSMdmG42CFp3CxPN-IFALwOEALT1Pid3PtVvsh_NmT0

Skorton, David, J.” Why Scientists Should Embrace the Liberal Arts” Scientific American. 16. Jan. 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-scientists-should-embrace-liberal-arts/

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