Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book is an expression of my concern for the neglect of the arts and aesthetics within American education. By "the arts" I mean creative human expressions in sensually perceivable media such as music, painting, sculpture, film, poetry, and drama, among others. By "aesthetics" I mean intellectual inquiry into perception in the arts and other sensory experiences or, more simply, the practice of making sense of sensory experience.1

Love of the arts in general and of music in particular has been an essential part of my life. Experiencing and thinking about the arts is the main basis with which I have tried to understand who I am as a human being and what it means to be alive. Studying the history of the arts has taught me how people of other times and places have thought, felt, and lived; how ideas and ways of living differ from one culture to the next; and what we human beings have learned and failed to learn about getting along with each other. More than any other field of study, the arts have taught me about relationships among people and nations.

Unfortunately I can't say that I owe this understanding to our educational system. Indeed there is very little opportunity for experiencing or studying the arts in American education. In K-12 and college-level education, the arts are represented as single-disciplinary practices, unconnected with each other and with the core curriculum and oriented more to the training of specialists than to the education of general students and the public. The closest we get to an integrated study of the arts is in the field of aesthetics. Unfortunately, aesthetics is taught only at the college level as a subdiscipline of philosophy, and generally involves specialized philosophical debate over the meaning of concepts in a manner too far removed from ordinary experience for general students and the public to understand.

The poor representation of the arts and aesthetics in American education is a sign of our highly materialistic times, an era when the idea that whatever can't

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