Trinity of Arts Education

How we introduce art to kids is really important business and should be approached from a holistic perspective
02 Aug, 2016

To have no access to music and other art forms is bad! Only thing worse is if we have an unqualified, simplified and out-of-balance access! It may scare us away for a lifetime. How we introduce art to kids is really important business and should be taken up in a serious way with all the attention, focus and skill that we would put into any other professional endeavor.

To start somewhere we need to realize that bringing art to children and youngsters is a holistic task, and that a successful approach need to integrate at least three different spheres: experiencing/inspiration (I), learning (L) and doing (D).

Full circle

Together they form a full circle, and without any of them, something will be missing, and the other two will not really work. I, L and D all have to be there to make it give any meaning. Take the example of a medic: The “learn” part is obvious with studying diseases, cures, anatomy etc. But also watching and being inspired by experienced professionals is a must. And finally: Only in practicing and doing it, makes it all real and turn you into a useful medic.

This is so obvious that it is almost embarrassing to mention. But we have to! It seems a human tendency to complicate things and forget simple basics in the process. So my objective here is actually just to remind us of realities already staring us into the face.

In Arts Education especially we cannot afford to forget basic elements like these. Many people still consider art a luxury in the educational system which means that there is not much room for failure (actually art is not a luxury as I have discussed in other articles). A qualified holistic approach is essential to succeed.

The danger of tunnel vision, where we only recognize the small area each of us happen to work with, can spoil a lot. If for example you help children make their own music, you need to be aware that they also need to experience great professional performances and acquire knowledge about what they are doing. Someone else may help them with that, but you must facilitate that it happens. You have to be aware of the ecology, you are a part of.

I – inspiration

A breathtaking experience in a concert, in front of a piece of art or at a theatre performance is often the spark that ignites our inner passion, and in some cases even changes our destiny. In any case it is a quantum leap on the ladder of development and learning. When we are inspired, our whole system is geared to receive relevant information, generate ideas and build up the necessary energy and joy to process it all.

Inspirational events activate the emotional and intuitive parts of our intelligence. It is widely recognized that emotions are critical to create the patterns that help us learn, and similarly inspiration builds a basis for relating to art. The quality of results we achieve depends on the quality and “richness” of our awareness and attention. Compared to reluctant learning, inspiration speeds up the process and retention rate manifold.

The ignition capacity is invaluable when we speak of inspiration, but it does not only matter in the beginning. In Arts Education and in all development and growth we start over and over again, entering new fields and meeting the unknown. In all these steps inspiration is necessary to fuel the process and to show us things we don’t know yet. Confronted with mastery we become gradually aware of how far we can aspire and get a boost to our motivation.

L – learn

To make a good experience stick and become productive, it must combine with learning and doing. Otherwise we are more in the entertaining business where things enter and leave our system without making us develop and grow.

Learning comes in many shapes, but generally is about creating patterns in our mental and cognitive spheres, that connect experiences and pieces of information to each other and making it possible to compare them, remember them and pull them out whenever needed. We understand what we are doing, and why.

A primitive approach to learning indicates that if you place the pupils on a chair and pour down information on their heads, they will learn.

Nothing could be more wrong. They may at best remember a few of the things that we want to teach them, but rarely much, and surely innovation and creation of new ideas will be absent.

Actually learning is a vast area, and can be described with a holistic circle of its own, indicating at least five elements that are all necessary to make real learning happen. Actually quite much overlapping with the I-L-D-model.

- Experiencing the world, phenomena, expressions, ideas etc.
- Conceptualizing them and placing them in context with theory, history etc.
- Reflecting on their meaning.
- Experimenting with them, testing, trying.
- And letting go of them in order to let the subconscious work (like the important pause in music)
Like a spiral, learning bring us through these stages over and over, making learning progressively deeper and wiser.

D – do it

Third element is where you have to act. Do it, struggle with the obstacles, marvel at the results, “getting your hands dirty”, fail, try again, succeed… Here we are involving physically with the body and the brain to make knowledge and visions concrete, manifest and useful.

Some speak of 10.000 hours of practice to attain mastery – as a surgeon, a violinist, a painter, or anything. Though a quite doubtful and populistic statement, it indicates how much training it always takes to be good at something. There is no quick fix to excellence.

To make the effort endurable, it surely helps if you are inspired and enthusiastic about it, so it becomes joyful playful. There is a huge difference between reluctantly doing what you are told to do, and doing it because you are fueled by passion, ignited by strong and inspiring experiences.

So let us make sure that inspiration, learning and doing are always available somewhere in the ecology of Arts Education activities and programs. Not all the elements can be present in every activity, so for professionals in the field it is paramount to have a wider view of what is going on and a sense of understanding the role you and others play in the holistic picture. With such an awareness there is a good chance that Arts Education stays on the agenda and evolves the way it deserves!

Be inspired / learn / go there …
Daniel Golman: Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, 1995
Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences - New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Basic Books, 2006.

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