What does art teach?

Written on July 24, 2009 by Felicia Appenteng in Arts & Cultures & Societies, IE Humanities Center, Philosophy

Macarena Ventosa

On response to Arendt's article on this blog about the relationship between today's artists and environment and ethics, I would like to analyze the subject "Can artists save the world?" Trying to answer on terms of environment seems to me a superficial approach. Even the phrasing of the question bothers me, it's like it's taken out of a science fiction movie. The Oscar Wilde quote in the article, taken completely out of context, gives voice to what most people think about the arts today: "Art is useless". We live in a world where everything has to have a clear result.

I would like to rephrase the question and go to the core of the matter. A more suitable and philosophical question could be: What is Art for?, Is it useless nowadays?

Of course, contributing to this blog it is impossible to give a positive answer to that. To me the core is not art's usability or material value but what it makes us feel and learn.

So I would leave it as: What do the ARTS teach that cannot be found anywhere else?

Let's try to look at Art from a different point of view and answer through some other questions.

How can any of us make sense from the world around us?

How can we gain confidence in our own ideas while respecting those of others?

How can we communicate easily, think both in and out of the box, collaborate with others, adapt to change, and solve complex problems?

How can we understand better our own feelings and those of others?

I am not trying to be original; there has been a lot of investigation on this field. A worthwhile summary in 10 lessons has been written by Elliot Eisner, professor emeritus of Art and Education at Stanford University. We should just take out the word children or student and apply each statement to anyone that believes that the Arts are not elitist but makes all of us better people through a process of making sense out of the world and refining our sensibilities. 


By Elliot Eisner


1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it
is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution
and that questions can have more than one answer.

3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives.
One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving
purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity.

Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.
The arts traffic in subtleties.

7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material.
All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said.
When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source
and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

10. The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young
what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press.


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