Art and the Essence of Individuality

By Jesus Dawal. Jesus, 26, lives in Legazpi City, Philippines.

There have been a lot of studies conducted about the importance of art to education. Some of them sought to prove that those students who got involved in drama clubs, musicals, and other art clubs, scored better at their academics; other studies showed that it doesn’t make a difference, but it doesn’t matter because being part of these activities help the students mature emotionally, socially, and psychologically. I am not certain of the educational and societal climate in other countries, but here in the Philippines, and in my experience and perception, it’s a case to case basis. The problem here is that the appreciation for art has been diminishing every year. Compared to Science majors, Liberal Arts students do not get appreciated very much because compared to them, jobs offered to Science majors are flashier and more “professional,” not to mention more essential to the nation’s economy. I believe there has been a gross misunderstanding as to what Art is, and thus its importance does not really get noticed. Like an onion, Art has many layers; some perceive only the outer layer, while others peel beyond it and see the inner layers. I will discuss the importance of art to education at the superficial level first.

My girlfriend teaches from kindergarten up to high school. Whenever they begin their lecture, they do a myriad of things to introduce the topic better, like a movie teaser, or basically to make the students interested in the subject. They call this Motivation. It could be a game, a video, a story or a quotation from a prominent personality; as long as it does the trick of getting the students’ attention and that it introduces the lesson effectively. I believe this is not because learning is an uninteresting thing so educators have to wrap the lesson in a fancy packaging; I enjoy learning and I believe we all do, given the favourable conditions. This is because each individual is uniquely different and intelligent in their own unique way and scope.

Unlike before, we now know that there are eight intelligences, and my belief is that each individual’s deeper interest for learning is connected to his intellectual gifting. For example, a student who’s intrapersonally intelligent like me who enjoys Philosophies would not be equally interested to sit in a Physical Education class if I am not intelligent in that area too. Our education system presently doesn’t have the tools to assess the intellectual gifting of every child, so educators have to teach generically. This is a problem in itself because not every child learns in the exact same way. Some are good with visuals, while others just need to hear the lesson directly from the lecturer. And if the students do not get interested in the subject, we judge them as lazy or stupid. That is detrimental to the growing up of an individual because there’s a good chance that when they grow up, they might actually believe that they are stupid and lazy people. I remember what Albert Einstein said, that everybody’s a genius but if we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking that it’s stupid. I also believe the same thing, and by not giving them the right teaching methods, we kill their potential to flourish in their specific gifting. Art has a great contribution then to education, because only a teacher who can artistically teach and inspire can effectively mould a future artist. If the educator flunks in this, then what else can he offer which Google and textbooks do not?

Art is a very influential means of expression. And since the beginning of time, we have been able to see how powerful a painting can be to influence a person. One such example here in my country is the Spolarium, a painting that showed the abuses of the Spaniards during the Colonial Era to my countrymen. This painting inculcated so much anger on the Filipinos, enough to revolt against the Spaniards that time; enough for them to give up their very own lives so that we, generations after, would have a free and better life. And of course, how can we forget about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which influenced the Americans in a very profound way that roughly half the country would wage war on the other just to abolish slavery. Art also teaches something about history and many other things. Renaissance paintings have a different tone compared to the Gothics, and history teachers understand how these paintings showed what society they had and what ideologies were prominent back then. These somehow help preserve history, much like in the same way that old scrolls taught us that Jesus and Socrates really did exist.

Finally, Art is not merely a painting or a song, even a food presentation; before the word Art even existed our ancestors already scribbled pictures of animals and their society. Giving definitions isn’t really a bad thing; by doing so we give form to it. But the problem there is that alongside giving form to something is the tendency to box it in, to put limitations and restrictions to it, and these words tend to spoil over time. That’s what we have done to art. Many of us have been led to believe that art is about expressing ourselves through paintings and sculptures and songs and theatre. But what if an individual can express himself artistically through the development of a software, or a thorough study on cancer cells, or merely through a nicely arranged line of chairs? Isn’t he an artist then?

My personal belief is that Art is the profound expression of oneself, in any way possible, and it is the gift-wrap of what he or she personally contributes to humanity and to this world as a whole. It is something like a calling, like an intimate and intricate design, like a gear in a clock that needs to function smoothly or the whole system will not function properly at all. Is our world running smoothly now? Everyone knows it isn’t, and I believe that is partly because we wanted everyone to fit in a specific design or category. The thing is, when Da Vinci painted his masterpieces, he probably wasn’t following after someone; he was expressing himself profoundly through the media that he knew and was effective at. The same was with every artist we revere. Take a look at Vincent van Gogh, who introduced a different painting style and method. During his whole lifetime he was only able to sell one painting, but right now his artworks cost a fortune, and some guy who wasn’t directly related to him even wrote a song for him.

On a superficial level, Art is important to education because everyone is uniquely gifted and need to be taught in a way in which they can absorb the lesson properly. Peel that layer, and the next issue is the importance of each lesson, and as to how they contribute to the moulding of every person’s genius. Go further down, and we find out that Art is important to education because it teaches us to know our identity, and to offer ourselves up for this world. There is something bigger than ourselves, and Art teaches us that the best thing that we can do is to express and give ourselves in the most beautiful way we can, and to strive to be ourselves no matter what the system tells us, or how others perceive us to be. Art inspires us not necessarily to be different, or to be like the person who inspired us; these people probably did not aspire to be like their mentors as well – they sought to find out who they were; their gifts and strengths, and offered themselves up for us all. Art reminds us that we are beautiful in our own way, and that our worth does not depend on how much money we earn every month, and on what colour of skin we have. It is about loving and accepting ourselves, and as long as humanity exists, art will always be relevant not only to education, but to the whole entirety of human existence.

This artwork of mine, I entitle: Art and the Essence of Individuality.

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