On Art Education

Ben Walter
Classical art education provides more than a creative outlet. Like any discipline, art education should have a structured curriculum. Art training neither stifles nor guarantees creativity. However, it does remove impediments to expressing oneself creatively. There are four specific benefits of a systematic art education.
  1. Accurate Perception.
Perception is our view of the world. Accurate perception is the ability to see things as they really are, not a pre-conceived mental shorthand of a thing. Training in perception involves understanding the relationship between form, value (light and dark), and color. Form is the boundary of an object. Usually, in the perception of form, our tactile sense dominates our visual sense. A person feels the boundary of a ball, and, if untrained in art, will draw a ball as a circle with an edge. The circle is really symbolic—it marks where he feels that the ball stops. However, objects as they appear do not have boundaries delineated by lines. In reality, form appears through shapes of value (light and dark). While an artist may interpret form into line, this is an interpretation of reality.
And so, the accurate perception of form as shapes of light and dark is the first step of an art student's education in seeing.
  1. Enhanced Memory
A classical art curriculum requires students to memorize visual information and remember ways of seeing and depicting what they see. Constant practice in learning something by sight and then recalling it in a drawing allows a student to compare the drawing with reality and learn where they have remembered incorrectly (sometimes to artistic benefit, sometimes not). Drawing and painting from memory also teaches a student to remember essential elements and to forget extraneous detail.
Knowledge of science—whether botany, biology, environmental science, or anatomy—can also greatly aid the art student. Students who know these fields of study can learn to re-create of a tree, face, or cloud by remembering the physical principles behind these objects—the physical principles work themselves out into visual principles. For example, a student may not remember exactly what a water droplet looks like. But if she knows how water reflects and refracts light, she can re-create a water drop in a drawing.
  1. Discipline
Most children with ten fingers who learn music theory and practice of scales and exercises for a few hours a day, become competent violinists (or trumpeters, or timpanists). It is the same with drawing. In the same way that one cannot pick up a violin for the first time and play anything but grating squawks, one cannot draw and paint well on first picking up a brush. But strangely, while most people understand and acknowledge the work it takes to become an expert musician, stock trader, or doctor, they treat artists who are capable of depicting real-looking forms as either magicians or prodigies. It is as ridiculous to assume that one was born with a comprehensive knowledge of contract law or Latin declensions. A common lack of classical art education probably explains this misunderstanding! Very few people are aware of the time-tested methods and curriculum that teach drawing.
A disciplined art student is constantly rewarded with evidence of increasing skill. Students who are training their skills hard can compare their drawings from month to month and see steady improvement. The evidence of success teaches students the value of discipline in achieving their goals.
  1. Aesthetics
A classical education in art teaches not only technique, but also an appreciation of beauty by studying paintings and sculpture through history. Seeing examples of beautiful art enables a student to appreciate someone else's creative vision—to leave his personal view of the world and see someone else's.
Studying art will also give a student aesthetic taste. Taste is the subjective, but important, ability to discern between the cheap, tacky, and faddish with the profound, beautiful, and timeless. Good taste never goes out of style.
Most importantly, an education in beauty is essential to the formation of the student because beauty is what makes truth captivating and goodness worth getting. Truth, goodness, and beauty work together in the heart of a child. A classical education is not complete if it equips students with a philistine intellect. Such scholars will find little joy in their own studies and have less impact in the world.

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