Home » Literacy » The Paradox of Art Education [opinion]

Art education has come a long way. In the past, particularly in post-independent Zimbabwe, there really was no difference between kindergarten art education and what was taught in primary and secondary schools.

Art was taught through a series of tight exercises on manila paper, using HB pencils, introduced by the drawing of cones and spheres and tonal shading heavily dependent on shade and shadow concepts, or the dark and light notion developed using tonal shad- ing.

This basic art education approach was rejected as a reaction against methods widely seen as leading individuals to rigidity and suppression of personal creativity.

The approach was viewed as being similar to use of colouring books, where children are asked to “be creative” but not to go beyond the boundaries.

There is always a problem when the phrase “be creative” is followed by a g “but”.

The rejection of the “old” art education fundamentals gave rise to thinking in art education.

The fresh approach is influenced by the conceptual meaning of what everyone that received art education at secondary school was taught that art is free expression and that there is an artist in each and every young child.

Primary and secondary school art education encourages spontaneity, making the assumption that whatever a child imagines can be transformed into an art piece when transferred to paper or whatever medium is available for the young minds.

Art education at this level creates the notion that creative expression is somehow a therapy, providing key developmental skills required in every child.

At this stage art education is not so much as a “shaping tool” for raw talent, but a form of training meant to teach the child as a whole rather than trying to make an artist out of him or her.

As a result art teachers in primary and secondary schools tend to view their roles as educators of “people”, not “artists”, in the process making the subject seem all too simple, easy and all too much fun.

This clearly hinders artistic development as the “more serious” or those on the high end of the class in terms of talent would find it difficult to improve.

Who would prosper, if everyone is treated the same way and given pats on the back for whatever end product they come up with?

Art can take a leaf our of other disciplines.

When secondary school students learn chemistry, they all assume the role of a chemist, and it becomes much easier for them because they, in the way they approach the subject, behave just like scientists.

Although at a micro and simplified level, secondary school chemistry students get to experiment with chemicals, understanding the roles or dangers of each as they go.

What a professional artist does at work is not a spontaneous expression of simple imagery blindly accepted and appreciated by peers.

Artists follow a well laid out thought process that flows from idea to concept and from there, artistic style is employed to come up with an end product.

Students in primary and secondary schools seldom receive career-building skills because they are all treated “like kids”, literally and rarely get anything other than blind appraisal.

In universities, art education can only work if it balances theory and practical approaches.

Without the theoretical aspects of art that in part encourages an appreciation of art aesthetics, art theories and art history, releasing an art student onto the Zimbabwean market is a futile exercise.

Additionally, the theoretical facet of art education equips the student with entrepreneurial skills required in a competitive and fragile economy like ours.

Practicals are university art education’s ultimate secret weapon.

Equipping a student with skills across a wide range of art genres gives the prospective entrepreneur with invaluable tools to succeed.

Practical know-how in art means that one has options, in case a particular art genre is struggling to attract customers, another may come in handy.

Emphasising practicals over theory, or vice-versa creates problems because the local art market requires both, and one complements the other.

Fortunately, art courses offered by Harare Polytechnic, Chinhoyi University of Technology and Zimbabwe Institute of Visual Arts emphasise both theory and practice.

If an artist is able to use a particular brush stroke or pencil shading technique, and is able to use the appropriate language to describe their work, then he or she may be seen more as a complete artist.

It might be true that art is a therapy for young kids or persons with emotional or mental defects, it might also be a corrective rehabilitation tool for criminals, but the professional artists, even from an early age, require formal art education where criticism is just as valuable as appraisal.

Artists cannot develop if they are told everything they produce is gold.

Encouragement laced with candid evaluation for the younger generation, and the correct balance between theory and practicals at tertiary level, are the best ingredients for art students in Zimbabwe.

Source : The Herald