Connecting Arts & Learning

By Unsworth, Jean Morman | School Arts, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Connecting Arts & Learning


Unsworth, Jean Morman, School Arts


The word Connecting and its variations has become a keyword in today's educational jargon. I wish to clarify five aspects of the meaning of interdisciplinary.

1 The wholeness of knowledge is essential.

Subject separation into quantities of information delineated in textbooks and quantified on tests has separated knowledge into compartments in our educational system. I recall the words of Chief Seattle: "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls also the children of the Earth."

Artists have understood this wholeness perhaps better than most people. Throughout the ages, artists have drawn the content of their art from the entire world of knowledge. Cave painters studied the anatomy and movement of the animals they drew. The Egyptians worked with incredible accuracy on the mathematics of their pyramids.

The Greeks' study of anatomy and their logical perfection of its proportions using the Golden Mean, and the mathematical order of their architecture demonstrate their fusion of logic and mathematics in their art. Artists and scientists, artists and historians, have paralleled achievements through the centuries. It was an artist who developed the mathematics of perspective during the Renaissance. Galileo's scientific breakthrough changed artists' understanding of space. Neo-classicism and Romanticism were the visual voices of revolution. The Impressionists' search for color as reflected light paralleled science's understanding of the nature of light rays, visible and invisible. Religion has been the inspiration of the art of every culture. And, in turn, art has been an inspiration for religion. And so on through psychology, literature, music, technology--all areas of human thought.

Why should we deprive our children of this connectedness of knowledge by declaring the content of their other subjects off limits for art expression? By reaching into this rich source of imagery and ideas, we strengthen both the art and the learning of other subjects. Art is not demeaned by connecting it with math, science, social studies. All are enriched. And the connection gives substance to the artwork and shape to the subject content.

The fragmenting of learning into subjects, each with its text containing the quantity of information to be "covered," gives students the idea that there are no connections among math, science, history, etc. A good program builds interdisciplinary thinking on themes which draw content for all areas of knowledge.

2 Drawing is an essential mode of expression, hence of learning.

I see drawing as a complementary mode of learning, equal to writing and verbal expression. It is within the powers of every person to draw. Many cultures do not have a word in their vocabulary for art because making--and making things aesthetically pleasing--is such an integral part of their being. Drawing, moreover, is as personal as handwriting. Just as, after practicing Palmer Method, we evolve a handwriting that is our identification, so our drawing style must be equally personal.

My experience with teachers as well as students has proven to me that it is linear thinking that stifles individuals' drawing. Once empowered to RISK "drawing with their eyes," in other words, really following edges with their eyes and letting the hand record them, everyone can draw. (And this kind of perceptual drawing has a direct carry-over to reading.) Drawing, therefore, should be a mode of expressing learning in every subject, combining with linear, "right answer" thinking that tends to dominate the school learning climate. I have seen sad examples of very bright children who will not draw, who simply refuse to try. They have been so conditioned to getting A's in factual exams that they find risking an "unsuccessful" drawing to be traumatic. …

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