The Arts and Critical Thinking in American Education

By Ivan Olson; Ralph A. Smith | Go to book overview
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Arts, Aesthetics, and the Umbrella of Critical Thinking

In On Judging Works of Visual Art ( 1949: 53) Conrad Fiedler suggested that a likeness appears between art and philosophy in that both are cognitive in their main effort to become a continuous, incessant working of the mind to bring one's consciousness of the visible world to an ever richer development. This continuous, incessant process is a good starting point for us in any attempt to define critical thinking.

Critical thinking denotes disciplined processes of analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information resulting from observation, reasoning, or reflection based upon intellectual values that apply to all areas of human experience. If present trends continue, schools in the near future will be evaluating programs more on objective performance-based criteria. This will affect more than social studies, math and science, and English; it will have impact upon all the arts.

Like the other arts, music is closely tied to aesthetic experience and critical thinking. Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, relied upon relationships between aesthetic perception and various cognitive conditions in developing or explaining certain behavioral models and theories. What makes the arts so enjoyable, so vital, in our lives is the constant mingling of the cognitive (the thinking) with the affective or emotional conditions. If we can agree that music at its highest order of thinking involves an intense cognitive process, that is, nevertheless, joined by sometimes strong affective (feeling, emotional) processes, then we can think of this union of the logical and the emotional, the objective and the subjective, as probably the reason why we have such deep feelings for some of our music.


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