I experienced two kinds of growth in knowledge: the new and the expansion. Now people have be asking themselves for thousands of years: “How do I know?” And “How do I know I know?” Indeed, there is an entire branch of philosophy, epistemology, which has numerous dense tomes dedicated to those very questions. But, for me in reflecting on my summer, I am examining slightly different versions of those questions: “How do I know I am ready to teach this?” And “How can this knowledge become part of making art?”
The terms art and craft since the beginning of the 20th century have been misused and misunderstood. This is beautifully discussed in the brief TED Ed video below. The first part of my learning this summer was what the Ancient Greeks referred to as the “techne” that is the craft. Understanding the media, the various skills, the logistics are all part of the craft of teaching a thing. But, I teach art, so it needs to be more than mere technical skill and well considered logistics, it needs to be, Art. Or Ars, as the Ancient Greeks called it meaning, excellence, mastery, imbued with a spirit of genius.
The 19th century philosopher Immanuel Kant said that craft can have mastery and purpose, but art is imbued with genius or innovation and a spirit which communicates to all people. For me, great art usually has all three: masterful craftsmanship, a genius or innovation born of practice, and a spirit which reaches out to engage the viewer in an authentic and meaningful way. But, how to teach..genius? Especially when I’m not one in any field, EGADS! So at the risk of being smote by the gods of the Ancient Greeks for the sin of hubris, I’ll at least share my thoughts on the subject.
Much of the research and writing in education circles in recent years have centered around how to teach innovation and creativity, aka genius. I’ve always found it somewhat strange that it has been only recently that education science has begun to look toward the arts in this regard. It was Albert Einstein who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Now, as a card carrying life long day dreamer and visual artist I can speak with some authority about imagination. And with that and the hope that the gods will now indulge me, I will dare to elaborate.
In going deeper in my printmaking and as my skill and confidence increased in both book binding and printmaking, I noticed an interesting shift in my mental patterns. The more I practiced and studied, the more I saw. I began to see what I was working on in everything and everything in relation to what I was working on. There opened up beautiful mental and spiritual space of calm and clarity. There was an intricate interconnectedness in my universe because of my focus. And as I began to pursue those lines of inquiry, that is the why’s and what if’s I found that I was at play. This play was fun, but hard work, and at times exhausting and frustrating. It meant finding comfort in the open-ended questions and the possibility of the unfinished. But, I know that the embracing of the unknown was exactly what has brought me forward in my work, and that it is the practice of creative and innovative thinking. It is also where I think genius, that art spirit begins.
So, what is the most important thing I will return to my students with after a summer of learning craft, and seeking to create art? A Spirit of Play.