Retrospective Epiphany and The Perils of Judgement in Education

Last week’s academic frustrations and the subsequent scouring of all Ken Robinson internet videos led to a number of events. First it culminated in the Sir Ken Robinson Video Marathon post. It also led me to purchase his books The Element and Out of Our Minds from my local book store. Since these impromptu purchases I have been utterly consumed by The Element and have breezed through the first 97 pages (more than one third)… and finally this journey led me to the following retrospective epiphany.

Roughly twenty years ago, I can’t remember in which grade, either in six or seven, my father presented me with this plea (yes my rebellious stage had already started to emerge)…

“Choose one subject you really like in school and just excel in that, really apply yourself to that one subject and see how it goes…”

Out of love and admiration for my father I committed to doing this, and the subject I chose was English. Creative writing was the primary focus of that elementary English year. I poured myself into the next two assignments. I wrote a short story about an escaped high fantasy hero with a last stand by a wooded river bank. Where, along the river shore, our hero with an un-described past barely bests all the kings men in mortal combat. The other short story was a modern car chase scene, with gangsta rap of the era, “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta” on the Porsche stereo. Here too a bloody end, this time involving police brutality in the snow.

As a reward for this effort and my father’s timely intervention my teacher wrongly accused me of plagiarism. Her “proof” was two fold. One, I’d never produced any work of this quality before, and second her sons had video games and she “knew” my inaugural writing efforts were “plagiarizing” their motifs. I’m not sure under what circumstance this terrible standard of proof (not to mention definition of plagiarism) would be worthy of anything. Yet, under the judgement of my elementary school principal (If I recall correctly ironically named Sunny) this was sufficient grounds for many parent teacher conferences, me being sent to the psychologist for testing, and having to write my next assignment, not at home, but in a detention like setting at school. This new setting clearly being a great environment for tapping into a spring of creativity. The immediate deliberations were inconclusive of course… other than I had an exceptional vocabulary for someone of my age, and my next assignment was predictably uninspired and unmemorable. Unbeknownst to me, my parents were also urged to realize I was the next “Jeremy”, as enshrined in Pearl Jam’s famous epic. I am thankful to report that 20 years later I’m still proving them wrong by living a violence free life!

My “retrospective epiphany” is this… this whole educational debacle had many longer term effects. It prolonged my rebellious period, with me breaking out of it barely in-time to gain entrance into University, and it left me profoundly untrustworthy of authority. Especially in circumstances where the “right answer” or the desired behavior is subjective or unclearly defined. Which is incredibly unfortunate because my passions have always been more in the arts than in the maths or sciences, but since this incident I have shied away form them, until very recently. This false accusation, which was leveled at me at a vulnerable time when I was making a first attempt to really apply myself, set back my emerging academic commitment for years. It also crushed my artistic aspirations, the residue of which lasted even longer. My angst with the education system and the grades assigned to my visual art (ART 150) writing efforts this semester have also been amplified by this ancient wound… astounding!

Having expressed this epiphany I feel relieved to have rooted out this piece of shrapnel, and revisited its ramifications… I’m also left pondering the significance and serendipitous nature of a chorus line in a song, which lately I have been listening to constantly: “And judgement is just like a cup that we share” – Iron & Wine, Rabbit Will Run.

Sir Ken Robinson Video Marathon

As the third class (ART 150) in my Fine Arts Diploma Program sunsets I can’t help but feel; that though the subject mater is less industrial than my Bachelor of Commerce degree the overall educational paradigm is the same. It feels a bit disheartening as well as misplaced… an area of study with an identity crisis perhaps?

This feeling got me thinking of a TED talk I was exposed to, in the first course of my program FA 101 (which was fantastic), by Sir Ken Robinson… some googling and hours later, I present the Sir Ken Robinson Video Marathon! The best internet videos I could find from the knight calling for an educational revolution. Fight on Ken, your revolution is not complete!

The Inaugural

The Animated 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U]

The Element 

1 Hour Talk on the Element

No apparent way to embed this one but it’s worth the jump and the time, a lengthy talk covering a wide range of topics associated with the Element one of Sir Ken Robinson’s books.

The Latest

Quotes and Truisms

So I have to concede Art 150 one thing…  It does expose the students to a wide array of artists and artist’s practices.

For instance I didn’t know anything about Jenny Holzer and her work with truisms when I offered up the creative challenge of create a quote.  And the two things are clearly similar… so here’s another one:

“People in places of power are commonly contemptuous.”

I have been remiss with my proposed schedule here at Exploring-Art.com. I was desperately trying to meet my own grade expectations with ART 150, which in hindsight may have been a futile endeavour – Alas! The good news is that the last assignment is due December 1st, so I’ll be able to get back into my regular cadence soon.

What is art?

Given the trajectory of this blog, I knew that I was going to have to tackle this philosophical question sometime soon. Interestingly the question also played a starring role in the first two weeks of Visual Arts 150: Contemporary Practice: Theory & Criticism… what I’ve learned from class is that there is no shared answer, only many individual answers, so here’s mine.

In order for something to be art it must:

Be a product of a creative process. This is a subjective principle, and it also introduces a duality, a single object may or may not be considered art depending on the process by which it was made. Additionally a creative process is a many varied thing, some are long, some are short, but they all at some point envelop an idea in the broadest sense of the word (not necessarily a big idea).

Be evocative… maybe it makes you wonder what it is, maybe it makes you contemplate the universe, maybe it makes you uncomfortable, happy or sad, maybe it reminds you of summers past, but it must be able to stir something inside an audience even if it is only simple ambivalence. This is also a subjective principle, what is or isn’t evocative in this broad sense is debatable, and personal.

Have a self-aware audience. If the product was to be viewed, tasted, heard, experienced, the audience must be aware that it is participating in this dynamic. A theatre production that is snuck into everyday life is no longer art, because although lines are scripted and the story is plotted, the audience is unaware that this isn’t just people interacting through the course of daily life.

Be man made. By this I mean not nature, not happenstance, I don’t want to use the word intentional because some artists claim not to know where a piece is going… they just do… Although nature is beautiful, and we can stumble upon beautiful serendipitous moments throughout life, they are not art.