Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Letting All Lives Speak: Inequality in Art Education and Baumgarten's Felix Aestheticus

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Letting All Lives Speak: Inequality in Art Education and Baumgarten's Felix Aestheticus

Article excerpt

In 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics published the most recent comprehensive look at arts education availability in American schools (Parsad & Spiegelman, 2012). Most troubling, yet known anecdotally by many educators, was the clearly reported statistical equity-divide in access to the arts. The report showed that the higher the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch, the lower the percentage of students receiving arts instruction. In the 2008- 2009 academic year, 96% of students attending schools that had a free and reduced lunch rate between 0% and 25% received instruction in music. In contrast, only 81% of students attending schools that had a free and reduced lunch rate of 76% or more received instruction in music. Therefore, nearly 20% of the lowest income children in the United States receive no education in music. This trend is consistent across all the data on visual arts, dance, and theater compiled by the 2012 report, showing an indisputable correlation between socioeconomic status and access to education in the arts.

While it is clear that there is a statistical disparity in arts education predicated on socioeconomics, my inquiry examines the normative dimensions of such an inequity and its potential impact on the student as creator. I give a philosophical argument that arts education is essential to student development because of its potential to educate the self to become what Alexander Baumgarten (1750/2013) described as a felix aestheticus. Baumgarten defined the felix aestheticus as the individual who has developed sensitivity to the creative possibilities present in the materiality of experience. The fully realized felix aestheticus perceives how one's experience of the sensory world may develop into a unique artistic vision. Simplified, the felix aestheticus is the varied capacity to feel experience and communicate a distinct expression through a variety of materiality; this common capacity may flourish or be unrealized. The phrase "common capacity" is used for the purposes of this article, predicated on a definition of perception that is inclusive of neurodiversity. Throughout the article, reference to the term "perception" should be understood to point toward embodied approaches, namely ones that, because of the appeal of the arts to multisensory experience, have the potential to liberate the expressions of a neurodiversity of people. I posit that the lack of education in the arts for groups of students based on socioeconomics creates an equity gap of human expression. Ultimately, I seek to level a defense for equity in arts education predicated on understanding it as a method of cultivating sensitive cognition or the kind of knowing that enables individual potential as creators.

I first briefly1 lay the conceptual foundation for the aesthetic philosophy that undergirds the kind of art education I am championing: an education that extends and develops Alexander Gottleib Baumgarten's (1974/2013) idea of aesthetics as the cultivation of the felix aestheticus or the self as creator and developer of one's world. This is not to argue against current versions of art education but, rather, to give a different conceptual frame to those activities, one rooted in the foundation of Western aesthetics. Then, I attempt to elucidate sensitive cognition, which Baumgarten suggested is cultivated through attunement to the aesthetic dimensions of experience. Aesthetics is understood in this inquiry as knowledge that is derived from the experience of our senses. I connect this notion of aesthetics with Jacques Ranciére's (2013) idea of the equality of materiality in order to illuminate how arts education, understood as the cultivation of the felix aestheticus, is deeply significant to human experience. In an effort to connect this philosophical foundation to potentials for policy and practice, I examine the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964) and Johann von Goethe (1810/1971) in an effort to exemplify the functioning of the felix aestheticus. …

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