It’s been two years since Pearl closed, and I barely learned of it today (in 2016!) after deciding to check out their website to see what’s up. I had the pleasure of visiting their famous store in New York in my early 20′s and I was in awe of Pearl, their name really embodies this historical landmark’s essence. Pearl was not just any art supply store, they were an experience, a multi-store artistic journey into the heart of creating.

I am saddened by these already “old news”, and as an art education major on the borderline of finishing my studies, I can’t help but think on the broader implications of the slow disappearance of art in our communities. As highlighted in an article by Hannah Sentenac in Miami New Times, it is usually the art programs that get the ax in schools, when budget cuts are made. This is a symptom and I fear it is telling of the times we are about to enter, an over emphasis of the rational mind.

I can understand the investment into hard sciences: math, physics, technology & co are driving our society forward, but I cannot understand the lack of insight into the supporting pillar that is behind all technological innovations and breakthroughs – the creative mind.

Art is becoming a diminishing resource in schools, its educational benefits have been broadly misunderstood for too long now, Plato himself, thought to be one of the greatest philosophical minds, wrote of the importance of learning through creative means. His theory has been often misunderstood (at times even deliberately in the academic world) with grave consequences.

Herbert Read wrote his masterful book “Education through Art” in 1943, in which he discusses the implications of the Aristotelian emphasis in education since the middle ages and its limiting factors on our youth. The logical bias was adopted as a basis for educational practices: “– the thought process as conceived by the science of logic is regarded as giving to our whole method of acquiring knowledge, and, therefore, to our whole specifically human conception of the world –” (Read, 1943, p. 57).

He argues that the unbalanced favoring of logic as a basis for understanding the reality of our world (and therefore “the facts” reduced from observations) misconstrues the thought process that we teach to children in schools while their mental maturation progresses. The neglect of the creative principle reduces and simplifies the productive thinking process, which is closer to a creative one (artistic production) than previously understood: “It is not suggested that an integral mode of thought excludes logical thought in a tolerant world. But it is only too evident that a training directed exclusively to logical thought produces a type incapable of imaginative activity–” (Read, 1943, p. 68).

He also references Schiller and his famous letters “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” written in 1794 in the after math of the failed French Revolution as another supporter of Plato, and therefore his own thesis concluding that aesthetic education is fundamental in a balanced schooling system. Read unravels Plato’s concept of art and education, and how they have been dismissed due to a lack of understanding what he truly meant by them. The result is a call for an educational reform, where art and science need not be separated, but used methodologically in complimentary unison to nurture the needs of mental maturation of a child into a mature and balanced citizen of a society.

It should be a no brainer that a cookie cutter model for education, where children are taught to pass tests, is simply not enough anymore. We as a society deserve better. The youth deserves better from the people, who are supposed to be on their side, guiding them in this rich, colorful world of ours. How can we learn the ability to “see outside the box”, an acquired skill in the toolbox of creative thinking, when the educational system is designed to keep us right inside it?

Sure, every once in a while “an exceptional mind” may prevail despite the predicament that is imposed upon it, but every child and adult alike has the capacity to be like a creative genius, to think better, a belief I firmly hold, if only guided in how to expand their thinking further into the realm of creativity.

Read’s claims of aesthetic sensibility as a key ingredient in the thinking process was supported by the research conducted by the school of Gestalt psychology in his own time, and in today’s research, he finds his support in Nancy Andreasen, a neuroscientist and psychologist, whose focus is on creativity. She opens up about her research in an article titled “Secrets of the Creative Brain”, in which she concludes that: “For years, I had been asking myself what might be special or unique about the brains of the workshop writers I had studied. In my own version of a eureka moment, the answer finally came to me: creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” (Andreasen, 2014).

Although much of her emphasis is on discovering links between creativity and mental illness (whether they exist and the possible nature of them), there are valuable notes she makes in her article, especially when mentioning a connection between nurture and becoming a creative genius, suggesting that the level of creativity an individual has may be affected through guidance. She also suggests that: “The arts and the sciences are seen as separate tracks, and students are encouraged to specialize in one or the other. If we wish to nurture creative students, this may be a serious error.” (Andreasen, 2014). The rift between arts and science has persisted, I do see this as a grave mistake, and as Andreasen writes in her article, many of her study subjects (award winning artists and Nobel laureates) found the standard ways of learning wanting, even distracting.

“Education through Art” and “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” are must reads for professionals involved in the educational systems, but I do not place much faith in people holding the budget cuts ax. In Finland, this year, major cuts in education have been a polarizing subject of discussion in the public domain.

I am sorely disappointed in Finnish policymakers, calling for more “quality research” to lift Finland from its slumber and pointing the finger at universities: do more, do something, we need more innovation to create jobs. Yes, shit has been hitting the fan for nearly a decade now as far as economy goes in this small Nordic country, to put in a crude way.

But to demand for research results that can be commercialized speaks of a complete misunderstanding on how innovation happens, research is a long process that culminates in discoveries, which in turn can be engineered into practical applications. But this takes time, in some cases decades. And now you’re taking away funding to do this?

Take graphene for example. First recognized in the 19th century, theorized in 1947, isolated in 2004 (Bradley, 2014), and in 2016? Scientists are still dabbling around with it to see what kind of practical applications it may have – the promise it contains for future uses. It is the story of aluminum all over again and the long road it took before revolutionizing our society (or before it started making some serious profit).

So where does art fit in all of this you may ask? Excellent question. The appreciation of all things considered artistic may be at a decline, when job driven societies experience economic troubles, sacrifices must be made, and the steak has to be trimmed from excess fat, most likely the first layer to go is cultural projects. But consider this, innovation and creative thinking (future scientists leading and working on projects) starts at a grass root level, with children. Teach them the way of “creative geniuses” of which for example Herbert Read and Schiller dreamed of, and we will nurture a generation of fluid thinkers and doers, who will go where no man has gone before, and perhaps bring back awe-inspiring stories of what they have discovered in the process of building our future.

The first of May in Finland is a celebration of workers, and traditionally in Helsinki a statue “Havis Amanda” is capped by local university students. In 2016 ironically enough the central theme was art and it was the art students, who received the honor of placing the symbol of higher education on the statue’s temples, a white cap a student receives in Finland after finishing their high school studies.

The office of education took a major hit this year in Finland, a public outcry is warning of a “brain bleed”, the most talented and skilled may leave in search of more fertile grounds for doing research in hopes of receiving more understanding for what they’re doing. Workers in the field of culture and science are holding their breath in anticipation, extremely worried that the colors of our Finnish landscape once beautiful are slowly fading, and it is painful to watch as an advocate of arts and science. A saying goes that forgive them for they do not know what they’re doing, and the educational budget cut mess is truly reaching biblical proportions with nearly unforgivable ramifications for some.

 

References:

Read (1943). Education through Art. London: Faber and Faber

Andreasen (2014). Secrets of the Creative Brain. An online article. Referenced May 10th 2016: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/07/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

Bradley (2014). A Chemical History of Graphene. An online article. Referenced May 10th 2016: http://www.materialstoday.com/carbon/comment/chemical-history-of-graphene/

Sentenac (2014). Pearl Paint Art Supply Store Reacreated in Wynwood. An online article. Referenced May 10th 2016: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/arts/pearl-paint-art-supply-store-recreated-in-wynwood-6484957

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