Jul 062014

Marvelous Illinois artist, friend and teacher Rebecca Downing Pelley  shared The Atlantic’s recent article Why Kids Need Arts in Education with me this morning.

Same old story: the arts are not considered as important as other courses in our educational system. This is not news.  Many have written about it.   And I’ve written about it before (Is the Renaissance Man Relevant?)

A Harvard educator in this article points out how the creative process fosters other types of thinking.  Again, this is not a new revelation, yet the arts languish at the bottom of the funding list behind the usual suspects. We all know the old tropes about how an appreciation of music engages the part of the brain that breeds equations.  Society won’t function without equations, right?

I was pondering this before 7 a.m. as I waited in the drive-up line at our local coffee shop this morning.  As the line of vehicles wound around three corners of the building, I noticed a bed of beautiful flowers.

So early that the flower’s petals had not fully engaged the sun, they were still limp and heavy with dew. Yet, they were still magnificent in the early morning.  (This photo is not the Donut Bank flowers; these are daisies from the Generalife Gardens, Granada, Spain, June 2014.)

Hmmm.  I wondered to myself.  What function do these flowers perform?  There’s that whole business about bees and pollination, but that’s for another article.

The flowers exist in that setting — around the perimeter of the Donut Bank —  for beauty.  How can we value that? What does the presence of tiny, fragile, sun-worshipping petals mean for us?

As a young person, I received a college education.  I  went to journalism school and learned the basics that would serve as the foundation for my career.  I studied communications law, photography, history, and the Great Books.  I also learned critical thinking skills and I learned how to ask questions.  I was very blessed to receive a good education as the foundation for my professional life.

However, I was more blessed to receive another type of education.

I learned early to stop and smell the roses, and appreciate the beauty around me, and not question its value to a marketing society, as The Atlantic article says.

A decreased emphasis on arts, explained Damian Woetzel, who was a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet before becoming director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, “came about in a frame of increased emphasis on test scores and utility—the market economy becoming a marketing society. Everything is about what you’re going to get,” in readily quantifiable terms.

Woetzel describes an erroneous dichotomy, wherein arts aren’t a separate part of education. “It’s a false proposition that we have to take the arts away to fund something else.”

If as the article says, the world believes “everything is about what you’re going to get,” I’m so grateful for what I got from these flowers after dawn this morning. Engagement with beauty, simply for beauty’s sake, is the true education and one that lasts a lifetime.



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