The Arts

It may be simplistic, but art can be thought of as falling into two categories.

Art that is decorative gives us the opportunity to be exposed to beauty, to surround ourselves with beauty, to have our lives enhanced by beauty in a way that gives us a better appreciation of the world, enhances our awareness, and unconsciously encourages higher aspirations. It can represent a rebellion against ugliness, a refusal to be overwhelmed by evil, and can lead to a lifting of the human spirit.

Among the advantages in teaching decorative art is that it enhances children’s aesthetic appreciation, helps them to become fully aware of the world, often calls for skills in fine coordination which help to organise the brain, and encourages optimism and confidence. To study great decorative art from the past and present often requires an understanding of cultural history, and can therefore enhance the study of SOSE.

This applies as much to theatre, dance, music as it does to visual arts.

The ‘other’ art is often more difficult to approach, to engage with, or to comprehend in a way that gives immediate satisfaction. This is art that shows the inside rather than the outside, that shows feelings rather than images, that often comes from the unconscious, and is concerned with truth rather than masks. In a concealing culture, such as ours, abstract art can be seen as dangerous and can provoke destructive reactions and official sanctions.

Yet it is important for children to explore, attempt to understand, and to develop skills in abstract art. In developing a dance that is full of violent aggression, in executing a painting that is illuminated by sexuality, in composing a piece of music that powerfully explores bonds with the forest and natural phenomena, our students will gain a greater self-awareness, a surety that is only available to those who have access to their unconscious minds.

Gertrude Stein claims that she once said to Matisse: ‘Your work has no interest for me, because there is nothing within you that is fighting itself.’

It is hard to believe that there was nothing within Matisse that was fighting itself. It is more likely that Matisse was, in Stein’s eyes at least, incapable of using that conflict in his work. To use artistic media as a way of exploring and expressing our inner conflicts is to charge our work with power that, when done honestly, is unmistakable, no matter how uncomfortable it may make spectators, who may be more accustomed to the polite and superficial. The paintings, choreography, pottery and sculptures of Picasso, the fiction of Kafka, the music of Stravinsky, Bjork, Dylan and Cobain, the photography of Henson and Mapplethorpe, the dancing of Martha Graham are all evidence of this, as indeed are the lives of these people.

The truth of course is that most art cannot be divided so neatly and simply, and many works fall into both areas. The greatest skill of the decorative artist is to bring elements of the inner life of the characters or scene to the work, so that the realistic portrait also shows the personality of the subject, the still life conveys some truth about the flowers in the vase. Equally, abstract art often explores the tension between appearance and reality, between masks and truth, between superficiality and depth.