Tuesday, May 9, 2017

For Art's Sake!!

It seems like everywhere I turn these days, in my art education literature, and online groups, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), Design Integration, Maker Spaces, Media Arts, and so on.  And I'm here to flat-out tell you, I am so sick and tired of hearing about it. 

It makes me wonder why we art educators chose the career we are in.  Did we become art educators to train kids for careers in design? (Not that there's anything wrong with that).  Or did we become art educators to help children explore their creativity, to express themselves through the wonder of that creation?  And, if we consider ourselves artists (which I think most of us do, in one way or another), what, if any, is the relationship of our personal art and STEAM? 

I know for me, making art is a part of who I am, whether it is manipulating with 3-dimensional materials, or painting with a loaded brush, doodling elaborate designs with Flair pens, or even photographing nature.  The art I most care about making is simply "for art's sake".  Sure, I might design and create an article of clothing, or decorate a pair of shoes or purse.  Yes, I might create a whimsical trophy for  an event, and yes, I might enjoy doing these things, but ultimately, the art I care most about creating is that which I create simply because THAT'S WHAT I DO.  I am an artist, and I express myself visually, like a musician uses music for their expression.  My art is simply meant to be seen, to hopefully evoke something in a viewer.  It is not about STEAM. 

And as an educator, I most care about imparting my young students with that love of creating;  I want them to feel joy every time they dip a brush into creamy wet paint, enthusiasm when they put their hands into a bucket of papier-mache goo, surprise when they pull a vibrant print out of a tub of shaving cream, magic when they pull paint over a drawing done with white crayon and the image becomes visible.  I don't want them to feel that every time they make something in art, it automatically has to teach them a science or math or history lesson (Not that there's anything wrong with that).  I don't want them to feel that every piece of art they create has to serve some sort of design purpose beyond simply BEING ART.  Honestly?  I don't think I was originally hired with the intent that I was preparing kids for a design career.  I think the arts are included in a well-rounded education because they address the needs of the soul.  The arts make us human. 

 Let's face it, most of the artists we teach kids about in class did not create art for any reason other than something in their soul said that it was what they 'had' to do.  We know that Van Gogh painted because of a deep need inside, despite the hardships he endured because of this need.  Think of the lives of other artists we learn about.  How many of them were making art to serve any other purpose beyond that of creating beauty or provoking thought?  I mean, why else would my family and I build these ridiculous sand sculptures year after year, laboring in the hot sun, knowing that by the next day, the tide will wash it away?

Even now, why do so many people flock to art museums?   Often, to view a certain exhibition in a museum, you need to buy tickets in advance, that are timed, to handle the crowds.  We don't stand on line to see a Matisse cutout or a Chihuly glass sculpture or a because of how it will enhance a new technological discovery.  We choose to view the artwork for how it makes us FEEL.  People go to concerts to hear music, or to watch dancers simply to see them move, because, again, of how it makes them FEEL.  The most  important purpose of the arts, in my opinion, is not what it  does technologically, but how it makes us feel.  Why else, many years ago, did my family and I, and thousands of other people, stroll through Central Park in single-digit temperatures and an icy wind, to see Christo's "Gates" - billowing curtains of golden-orange fabric?   It evoked joy, on some level I can't even explain.  That's what the arts do.  (I wish I could find my photos of it; it was a "pre-digitial" event.  But since I can't, here's a photo from a Chihuly exhibit in Boston a few years ago, where people stood on line for HOURS to get in, simply to view art!) 

So, excuse me, when you talk about Design education and Maker Spaces and all the other buzz words of the moment, if you see me zoning out.  My students and I will be happily exploring the tactile world of making art with hands-on materials, just because, simply, we are artists, and that's what brings us joy.  And now, I will close this post with a photo of a moose on a roof. 


  1. Phyl, u crack me up. Preach it, sister! AMEN to all of this! Art Teachers, don't lose yourself and your kid's art chasing the latest and greatest rabbit! Stay True! ~Karen

    1. Thank you! I thought I'd get a lot of criticism for saying this, but it definitely hasn't happened? I guess as a retiree I'm simply less worried about saying these things. No repercussions for me!