Artistry has been suggested by many authors to be a characteristic of exemplary practitioners in any discipline. Artistry is not an exclusive talent. Instead, it is a learned, emergent capability that allows practitioners to integrate mastery and originality as they work.
The arts, as individual and collective forms of expression, engender both self- and group identity. Coping with and succeeding at the inherent challenges and frustrations of art-making demands persistence and supports resilience.
Arts Education Partnership, The Arts and Education: New Opportunities for Research. 2004
What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education? The distinctive forms of thinking needed to create artistically crafted work are relevant not only to what students do, they are relevant to virtually all aspects of what we do, from the design of curricula, to the practice of teaching, to the features of the environment in which students and teachers live.
Thoughtful educators are not simply interested in achieving known effects; they are interested as much in surprise, in discovery, in the imaginative side of life and its development as in hitting predefined targets achieved through routine procedures. In some sense our aim ought to be to convert the school from an academic institution into an intellectual one. That shift in the culture of schooling would represent a profound shift in emphasis and in direction.
Artistry, subsequently, can serve as a regulative ideal for education, a vision of what really matters in schools. To conceive of students as artists who do their art in science, in the arts, or the humanities, is, after all, both a daunting and a profound aspiration. It may be that by shifting the paradigm of education reform and teaching from one modeled after the clocklike character of the assembly line into one that is closer to the studio or innovative science laboratory might provide us with a vision that better suits the capacities and the futures of the students we teach. It is in this sense, I believe, that the field of education has much to learn from the arts about the practice of education.
Elliot Eisner, Artistry in Teaching, 2004
Because art making allows idiosyncrasy, mining individual experiences and memories, it invites a sense of ownership and responsibility for the forms it produces. It is easier to think about our own thinking when we can recognize it as our own, and the engagement and individuality of art making invites this ownership. Elliot Eisner celebrates the independence and responsibility of thinking that flourishes in arts education: judgments that must be formed in the absence of rule; goals that can shift and evolve in the process of art making; recognition of the unity of form and content; thinking within the possibilities and constraints of a particular medium.
Madeleine Grumet, Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century.
Columbia College Chicago, 2004
We need a new vision of what education might become and what schools are for. The aim of education ought to be conceived of as the preparation of artists. By the term artist I do not mean necessarily painters and dancers, poets and playwrights. I mean individuals who have developed the ideas, the sensibilities, the skills, and the imagination to create work that is well proportioned, skillfully executed, and imaginative, regardless of the domain in which an individual works. The highest accolade we can confer upon someone is to say that he or she is an artist, whether as a carpenter or a surgeon, a cook or an engineer, a physicist or a teacher. The fine arts have no monopoly on the artistic.
The distinctive forms of thinking needed to create artistically crafted work are relevant for reframing our conception of what education might try to accomplish. There are six distinctive forms of thinking. These artistically rooted qualitative forms of intelligence:
• require judgment in the absence of rule
• encourage students and teachers to be flexibly purposive
• recognize the unity of form and content
• require one to think within the affordances and constraints of the medium one elects to use
• emphasize the importance of aesthetic satisfactions as motives for work
Consider first the task of working on a painting, a poem, a musical score. That task requires the ability to compose qualitative relationships. What a composer composes are relationships among a virtually infinite number of possible sound patterns. To succeed the artist needs to see, that is, to experience the qualitative relationships that emerge in his or her work and to make judgments about them. In the arts, judgments are made in the absence of rule. Of course, there are styles of work that serve as models in the various arts, but what constitutes the right qualitative relationships for any particular work is idiosyncratic to the particular work. The arts teach students to act and to judge in the absence of rule, to rely on feel, to pay attention to nuance, to act and appraise the consequences of one's choices, and to revise and then to make other choices.
A second lesson that education can learn from the arts pertains to the formulation of aims. In Western models of rational decision-making, the formulation of goals, objectives, or standards is a critical act; virtually all else that follows depends upon the belief that one must have clearly defined ends. But in the arts, ends may follow means. One may act and the act may itself suggest ends, ends that did not precede the act, but follow it. In this process ends shift; the work yields clues that one pursues. In a sense, one surrenders to what the work in process suggests.
A third lesson the arts can teach is that form and content are most often inextricable. How something is said is part and parcel of what is said. Change the cadence in a line of poetry and you change the poem's meaning. The creation of expressive and satisfying relationships is what artistically guided work celebrates.
A fourth lesson is that not everything knowable can be articulated in propositional form. The limits of our cognition are not defined by the limits of our language. Dewey tells us that while science states meaning, the arts express meaning. The aesthetic cannot be separated from the intellectual, and for the intellectual to be complete it must bear the stamp of the aesthetic. These ideas expand our conception of the ways in which we know.
A fifth lesson we can learn from the arts about the practice of education pertains to the relationship between thinking and the material with which we and our students work. In order for a work to be created, we must think within the constraints and affordances of the medium we elect to use. The flute makes certain qualities possible that the bass fiddle will never produce, and vice versa. Painting with watercolor makes certain visual qualities possible that cannot be created with oil paint. The artist's task is to exploit the possibilities of the medium in order to realize aims he or she values.
Finally, we come to motives for engagement. In the arts, motives tend to be secured from the aesthetic satisfactions that the work itself makes possible. A part of these satisfactions is related to the challenge that the work presents. The arts are, in the end, a special form of experience. The sense of vitality and the surge of emotion we feel when touched by one of the arts can also be secured in the ideas we explore with students, in the challenges we encounter in doing critical inquiry, and in the appetite for learning we stimulate. In the long run, these are the satisfactions that matter most because they are the only ones that ensure that what we teach students will want to pursue voluntarily after the artificial incentives so ubiquitous in our schools are long forgotten.
The promotion of such artistic thinking requires not only a shift in perspective regarding our educational aims; it represents a shift in the kind of tasks we invite students to undertake, the kind of thinking we ask them to do, and the kind of criteria we apply to appraise both their work and ours.
The arts provide the kind of ideal that I believe American education needs now more than ever. Our world is not one that submits to single correct answers to questions or clear-cut solutions to problems. Our lives increasingly require the ability to deal with conflicting messages, to make judgments in the absence of rule, to cope with ambiguity, and to frame imaginative solutions to the problems we face. I am not talking about the implementation of isolated curriculum activities, but rather the creation of a new culture of schooling that has as much to do with the cultivation of dispositions as with the acquisition of skills. I am talking about a culture of schooling in which more importance is placed on exploration than on discovery, more value is assigned to surprise than to control, more attention is devoted to what is distinctive than to what is standard, more interest is related to what is metaphorical than to what is literal. It is an educational culture that has a greater focus on becoming than on being, places more value on the imaginative than on the factual, assigns greater priority to valuing than to measuring, and regards the quality of the journey as more educationally significant than the speed at which the destination is reached.
Elliot Eisner, What Can Education Learn From the Arts About the Practice of Education?
ASCD, Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, Fall 2002