It is encouraging to learn of the growing support for arts education in our community. Too often the arts are seen the way feathers are by people butchering chickens – fancy and colorful, they’re the first things to go in the quest for basic, chicken-dinner education.
When we think of “the arts,” we need to think wide and deep; we need reminding that many problems demand alternative forms of intelligence besides seeking solutions with words and numbers. Who would want to visit a dentist with a black-belt in quantum mechanics who could do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in 20 minutes but was a klutz when it comes to dexterity? Arts education is hands-on work. Art is first of all a type of work, and through art young people learn the value of work – work done to the best of one’s ability, for its own sake, and for the satisfaction of a job well done.
Whenever we drive our cars, we can thank the many groups of artist-designers who helped make it possible. Working through hundreds of drawings, settling on the versions appropriate for production, artist-designers and production personnel gave their plans to ceramic artists who modeled the first example of the car in three dimensions. Long before the metal versions ever appeared, each car was first modeled in clay. At this moment, ceramic artists are at work in Japan, Europe, and the U. S. on the 2011 models of every major vehicle.
Artist-designers teamed with mechanical engineers are responsible for every component in an automobile, from headlights and grille patterns through wiper blades, seat-belts, air bags, tires and even the tone and pitch of the horn, in addition to the overall “styles” of various models.
Artist-designers working at Johns Hopkins medical facilities help design ceramic body-replacement parts, including artificial heart valves; knee, finger, and toe joint replacements, even artificial vertebrae. Art courses, which train the hand, benefit not only those who design finger-replacement parts but the surgeons performing restorative procedures as well as people with debilitating injuries.
Most of these indispensable workers were first exposed to art in elementary and secondary schools, and were encouraged to pursue their special interests and talents as they progressed through the system. As one writer has put it, “The hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand.”
To neglect or foreshorten arts education is, in a way, like breeding a featherless chicken – a remarkable yet dubious achievement – if for no other reason that it would deprive the chicken of the joy of being whole. Art helps create a sense of being whole, in addition to bringing joy to both art-makers as well as art-appreciators.
As E. B. White said, “We should all do what, in the long run, brings us joy, even if it is picking grapes or folding the laundry.”
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