What is Aesthetic Education?
Aesthetic education is an approach to teaching and learning that engages students in learning about works of art through hands-on inquiry, questioning, writing, and art making. In the words of the philosopher Maxine Greene (2001), it “requires that learners must break with the taken-for-granted, what some call the ‘natural attitude,' and look through the lenses of various ways of knowing, seeing and feeling in a conscious endeavor to impose different orders upon experience.” (p. 5)
Why is this important?
When we talk about aesthetic education in schools we see the potential to develop ways of seeing and knowing that influence the ways in which all disciplines are taught. This technique teaches us to become keen observers of the world around us. Beginning with studies of works of art, we develop habits of mind that influence the way we approach all learning.
How can we expose children to a range of art forms in deep and thoughtful ways?
In these difficult economic times, arts programs are often the first casualties of school budget cuts. When students are immersed in prolonged encounters with works of art and have the opportunity to make and study art, they develop profound understandings of human culture as well as poise, skill, confidence, and the ability to express themselves that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. When schools do not include the arts in their curriculum, or when there are only isolated experiences with no meaningful study to accompany them, young people miss out on an essential part of a well-rounded education. Teachers may try to compensate for these gaps in the curriculum, but they can only do so effectively if they themselves have a background that is rich in the study of at least one, preferably multiple art forms. This is why is it so important for teachers across all disciplines to have their own experiences of being immersed in the study of art as part of their teacher education. The Bronx Arts Education Network provides ongoing support for teachers who seek to develop their practices of incorporating meaningful inquiries into the arts across the curriculum.
Preparing students for encounters with the arts
City school children grow up learning to become astute readers of their urban environment, but they sometimes express a sense of dislocation and disorientation when asked to step outside their familiar neighborhoods and experiences. This dislocation can lead to disengagement, which is why so many well-intentioned field trips and cultural experiences fail to have the impact on student learning that we might have hoped for.
Students in Lehman College’s teacher education program plan and experience trips to museums and live performances. This preparation includes hands-on workshops, background contextual information, study in leading open inquiry-based discussions including questioning techniques, and studies that examine the alignment of an aesthetic education curriculum with NY State Common Core Standards.
The impact of aesthetic education on students’ literacy
When we adopt an aesthetic education approach to learning, reading becomes not just a skill that allows us to comprehend written text, but a mode of action that shapes our approach to the world. To see patterns and to contemplate the choices made by a painter, a sculptor, or a dancer, to look more deeply into a math problem, to empathize with a person whose point of view differs from yours, to do the hard work of understanding complex ideas; all of these become natural approaches for the person who has learned to look, listen, and question deeply as we do when aesthetic education is practiced.