Academic journal article Review of Artistic Education

How Can Teacher Education Bring to Life Vygotsky's Ideas on Art and Psychology

Academic journal article Review of Artistic Education

How Can Teacher Education Bring to Life Vygotsky's Ideas on Art and Psychology

Article excerpt

Vygotsky on Art and Psychology - a conceptual framework for understanding teacher education

In his 1925 work entitled "Art and Psychology", Vygotsky (1925) launched into exploring what art is and what is its relationship to psychology and managed to phrase syllogisms that are proposed here as a fresh starting point to understanding the activity of teaching in programs of teacher education. As the pedagogical epistemic stance materialized in the policies, practices and ethos of a program of study, such as the national program for pre-service teacher education in Romania is, has been shown to be influential to the learning that takes place in the program, working on deepening the understanding of what teacher education is seems one valid and possibly resourceful endeavor for any attempt in (re)configuring the system of activity that takes teacher education as its object.

In his exploration of the possible meanings of art and its relation to psychology, Vygotsky starts off at inquiring views proposing an understanding of art as something that 'infects us with emotions and is therefore based upon contamination' (Vygotsky, 1925), a view widely embraced by theorists such as Tolstoy. By maintaining that art is but common emotion this theory fails to explain the many differences between ordinary feeling and feeling stirred by art and its conducive of understandings of art as nothing more than a mere amplifier or a transmitter for the infection of feeling. In such light art is reduced to its capacity to infect people with emotions. In a similar manner a system of activity such as teaching could be viewed as no more than in its capacity to depict knowledge previously unknown to the learners in such a fashion that the latter are enabled to retain the knowledge they're presented with. In many systems where the teacher education activity is being put in place such an understanding can be found. That is especially the case in places where this particular activity meets the larger cultural roots of Western and Eastern transcendentalist approaches to knowledge and development.

This being said, one must notice that Vygotsky sheds light on the many respects in which a perspective on art that is limited to a theory of contamination is faulted. This invites to caution and reflection in conceptualizing teaching and exploring the activity of teacher education whilst paralleling it to Vygotsky's ideas on art and psychology, noting that in reducing teaching to an activity of contents delivery one might commit the same error as in understanding art as contamination. As Vygotsky points out, should the purpose of art be to simply infect people with feelings, its significance would be very small, because there would be only a quantitative expansion and no qualitative expansion beyond an individual's feelings. 'The miracle of art would then be like the bleak miracle of the Gospel, when five barley loaves and two small fish fed thousands of people, all of whom ate and were satisfied, and a dozen baskets were filled with the remaining food. This miracle is only quantitative: thousands were fed and were satisfied' but wasn't fish and bread their daily diet at home without any miracles (Vygotsky, 1925). Instead, Vygostsy sees art as reminding of a different kind of miracle in the Gospel - the transformation of water into wine: "Indeed, art's true nature is that of transubstantiation, something that transcends the ordinary feelings; for the fear, pain, or excitement caused by art includes something above and beyond its normal, conventional content. This 'something' overcomes feelings of fear and pain, changes water into wine and thus fulfills the most important purpose of art [...] it relates to life as wine relates to the grape" - meaning that "art takes from life its material, but gives in return something which its material did not contain" (idem). Art proves to be in a far more complex relation to the human psyche as it is capable of cathartic actions - sometimes not reflecting a direct expression of life, but an expression of its antithesis - working on the grounds of subtle and complex interactions between the organism and the environment resulting in a devious and intricate way towards an ever desirable, nonetheless unattainable state of equilibrium between the two. …

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