The Lifeblood of Society

By Jonathan Machin from the UK.

The Lord of the Rings. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Pride and Prejudice. The Taj Mahal. All have the power to touch us, shake us and stir us. Each one, and every other piece of art, whether formalised as that or unrecognised, has the power to reach out to us and form a connection. To tie an umbilical cord between the creator and the observer through which flows understanding, spanning the time and distance between the people involved and establishing a relationship between them. This process takes place whether we stand next to the artist, or if time and space separates us, or even if it is our own spirit speaking to our brains. Art is defined through its capacity to establish this link and transfer of emotion, and while what it portrays to the viewer in their own context and life may be very different to what it was intended to show, this is an issue of interpretation of the art and not definition. Thus anything that can have an emotional impact on another person, and so form a relationship with them, should be included under the name of art, in its broadest sense. This means that as well as formalised arts (some of which are specifically taught at schools like music, drama and ‘art’), there is an endless potential for non-formalised arts in everything we do, as it is all able to create a relational tie between us and another being, although much of it we do unthinkingly. For example how we speak, in our choice of words and tones, the manner of our movement, whether it conveys purpose or elegance, and the pictures we paint in our own minds for only ourselves to see. Art is therefore the primary means that we use to communicate with others, and often to ourselves, and it forms the major component in the formation and deepening of human relationships.

Formalised arts such as dance, music, acting, drawing/painting and writing are thus essential for the formation of so called ‘soft skills’, the ability to relate and communicate, to empathise and to understand. This doesn’t mean they are the only means of acquiring such abilities, but they are often the best, the most effective and leave the person as a well-rounded individual. However, what I am calling non-formalised arts also play a very important role in the development of the relational side of a human being due to the formation of emotional bridges between individuals, and so providing opportunity, to explore what it means to inter-relate to those around you. It is essential to note that this is not only important for those going through the education system, whether that is reception or university, but for everyone on this planet. All too often as we grow to be adults we become observers only of art, and fail to partake and create it positively around us. This needn’t require an outlay of cost or even of time, but merely an adaption of what we already do to convert otherwise meaningless acts into works of art. Perhaps some of the individualism and isolation that is seen in the modern western world could be tackled through a greater practise of the arts, rather than the passive observation of them encouraged through a TV.

Therefore the teaching of the arts in a general sense is critical because they in turn teach us to relate and to love; to befriend and understand. The arts teach us about ourselves, for it is often only in the expression of a creative drive, through the establishment of a physical object or even just in the formation of a thought, that a bridge can be formed between our conscious and unconscious minds. The formation of this link allows us to better grasp who we are as individuals as it pushes the often unthinking assumptions and mind-sets we have to the foreground of our attention, and so provides an often rare window into the spirit. A study of the arts teaches us how to express ourselves and communicate effectively with other people. This skill is imbibed through the conversation that is set up each time that we engage with an art form, and are thus in some way, perhaps uniquely, effected by it, so gaining an understanding of how to communicate and relate to other people as we better learn how we ourselves are emotionally influenced. This better appreciation of ourselves and how we think can then be carried forward into all that we do as we seek to relate to other people, and as we join our experiences with theirs. It also allows us to grasp situations we have never been in as the creator of the art has been in these situations and through the art they are sharing with us are telling us of something of what that meant, enabling us to not only sympathise with others but better empathise too. Skills like these are essential as they provide a way for us to clothe facts, vitally important to be stated, but often very harsh and cold, with sensitivity and the so called ‘human touch’ of concern, care and love.

All this considered, it can be seen that the arts must play an absolutely critical role in education because engaging with them and creating them enables the development of the capacity within us to love and to receive others, no matter who they are or what they are going through. It is often all too easy for schools, colleges and universities to focus merely on educating children and students in their chosen subjects, or a more general syllabus aimed at younger children, but forgetting that teaching facts, even teaching how to analyse and think, doesn’t make anyone into an emotionally aware person. While these things are important, surely it is so much more to ensure that the future generations of this planet, those who will one day be leaders of the world are taught how to understand themselves and how to relate and understand others? Traditionally the arts have been viewed as distinct subjects and topics to be academically taught within their own boundaries and then left where they belong, within those same boundaries. I would strongly advocate that treating the formal arts like this is unhealthy for the development of rounded adults, and that the virtual ignoring of the non-formalised arts is only at severe detriment to not only those who are involved in teaching, but, and perhaps more so, to those being taught. Rather, both as formalised subject areas and threaded through everything that goes on, art should underpin the entirety of the education system. That said, there is a place for taught arts within an education system, but we cannot afford for it to be the only, and perhaps not even the major, form that arts are given within a teaching setting. What is even more important than specific teaching is the allowing of space and time to give the opportunity for creative art and style to develop within individuals – this may take the form of a directed task, or merely lightly guided free-time, but it is essential that it exists. It is also important that the arts are considered and looked at through the eyes of other subjects, for example even in the core sciences of physics and maths there is room for art, both considered through the beauty of the world and the simplicity of the maths used to describe it (and indeed I would argue that this must be taught to not only unify the subjects, but to demonstrate the emotional value and potential of the oft-considered emotionally bare subjects).

Thus the immense value of art is in its ability to form indirect relationships between the creator and the observer, and so giving it a vast scope, not only in what should be considered as art, but also in its potential to develop emotionally aware adults and encourage empathy within each other. We neglect this at our own risk – as the state of the UK education system is increasingly showing. Before we can expect an emotionally sensitive and caring culture there needs to be a new recognition of the enormous opportunities the arts give to influence how children will grow up and develop, and a return to not just teaching the value of formalised arts, but the acceptance of and space for the non-formalised ones.

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