Magazine article Montessori Life

The Power of Art

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Power of Art

Article excerpt

I want to be very clear about one thing: I am not an artist. I have no talent. I know this is so because my fourth grade art teacher told me and reaffirmed her judgment with an F in Art, thus ruining what had been up to then a perfect year; at least on the folded white report card I received that spring.

What is compelling but sad about this story is that, probably like a lot of other young children, I accepted the towering nun's verdict. I gave up and, most destructive of all, I let someone else's judgment define my talent and circumscribe my interests.

Such is the power of a teacher: power that can be wielded with a hammer, or, more wisely, with a glove.

Patricia Pinciotti, writing in Exchange (p. 43-45), suggests three ways of approaching art in schools:

* The complementary approach - art as self-expression

* The imitative approach - art as a correct form that children learn to imitate

* The cognitive approach - art as a language to communicate ideas

The validity of each approach seems obvious, not worth debating, but only if we accept the whole package. If a child develops the power of self-expression without form, his art will lack universality and be limited to the narrow boundaries of his whims and wishes. And, in fact, that is how we all begin, within that narrow range of the self. But if we have only form - meticulous imitations of the Old Masters, for example - we are left with soulless graphics, for it is in the communication of ideas that art begins to speak a universal language, conveying a meaning beyond the self. This powerful combination of self-expression, highly developed skills, and transcendent ideas is what draws us over and over again to the timeless work of Caravaggio, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, O'Keeffe and their very modern counterparts Richter, Basquiat, Thiebaud, LeWitt, and Rothko.

Montessori does not neglect the realm of art but she comes at the subject and its practice from a different direction. In The Secret of Childhood she connects the movements of the hands with the development of the child's intelligence. "His upper limbs become instruments of his intelligence rather than means of locomotion" (Montessori, 1966, p. 100). She is positively lyrical when she declares:

We might even say that man "takes possession of his environment with his hands. …

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