New Paradigm

Watercolor homework - what color was the light?I believe art should be a core competency for any student pursuing higher education. I’d like to see us promote the idea that studying art sharpens a student’s processes of observation, builds problem-solving skills and self-reliance, and opens up entirely new ways of seeing the world. In my opinion, studying art is at once a study of ourselves, of nature, and of what’s possible.

The process of carefully documenting an object brings an intimacy with that object that vaults us over our plain assumptions. My first still life included a major error in observation: I had painted the shadows gray because I assumed they were. After the exercise I began to learn more about color and realized that shadows appear in the complement to the color that is illuminated — so for example my yellow bananas needed purple shadows instead of the gray. Imagine going through an entire life with the assumption that all shadows were gray?

I can vouch for a new student’s trepidation in anticipation of their first group critique. To have one’s work displayed alongside the work of others and receive judgment from a variety of viewpoints is painful. We are exposed, and then forced to communicate — to describe our choices in making the composition. Surprisingly, there seems to be a strong accord among students within these critiques; criticism is delivered honestly and with a sense of support and encouragement, in recognition of the vulnerability of the situation. Discussing a composition involves the use of a common language, a language aquired by any student of art regardless of background or physical ability. Art itself is primarily a visual language that crosses all manner of communication barriers as well. 

We tend to associate art with beauty. It’s worth remembering that beauty has a biological source. For example, the Fibonacci sequence or golden mean which is the basis for the growth pattern of a nautilus shell can also be used to create the graceful proportions of a man-made Parthenon or a cellphone. Just as scientists observe nature, artists observe nature; why should the two be separate disciplines? One could argue an artwork is a different way of displaying data.

The study of art can be as laborious and painful as it is rewarding. It is by investing time in grappling with a design problem and by endlessly practicing and honing techniques that a work of value emerges.

Artists tend to be frugal and conscientious about toxins, byproducts, recycling, and waste. Consummate problem-solvers, artists apply their work process not just to solve design problems but to create tools, containers, methods, and improvements. Sometimes a playful intersection between beauty and need ends up in a bright solution to a common problem.

I have been impressed at how open and tolerant the discipline of art is to individuals who work in a non-traditional style, or who have a disability. While discrimination still exists in the world in general, and while groups share a common tendency to profess their view of the world as the right one, artists in general avoid evangelism. Artists have processes that are meaningful and preferential to them, but they usually stop short of requiring others to see the world the way they do. Rather, they serve as evangelists for thought and ideas.

We would do well to require all of our students to acquire the methods and skills of every new art student. Who knows what further heights of creativity and collaboration this would foster?

Tess McMillan, Communications “vector” &:-) for the Bellevue College Gallery Space

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7 Responses to New Paradigm

  1. Lisa says:

    It’s interesting that you say “Artists have processes that are meaningful and preferential to them, but they usually stop short of requiring others to see the world the way they do.” and then go a bit further to indicate that everyone should be “required” to take art classes. I think this point of view is easy for any artist to understand because art is our passion. However, I would venture to guess that those in other disciplines would see inherent value for the general student population in certain classes they take. We all have different filters and operate according to those filters. That you understand shadows are not necessarily grey may not be as valuable to an engineering student who sees their own type of beauty in fractal patterns or in calculating Pi out to one hundred or more digits.

  2. Danielle says:

    I enjoy that you said, “To have one’s work displayed alongside the work of others and receive judgment from a variety of viewpoints is painful. ” because I agree with it. It is some what painful to receave criticism. Expacially with your art work because it is a part of you, it’s something you made, it came out f you. But there is hope because poeple who take criticism as you have put it “honesty and with a sence of support and encouragement” are willing to learn. These are the people that will sharpen there process of observation, build problem solving skills and open a new paradigm of the world.

  3. lauren says:

    I like what you had to say and agree with it for various reasons. I to believe art can help people in various ways in life , from helping people look at things in new ways to helping people even deal with things in life to helping one heal from tragety and life events in there own way. Myself im a combat veteran who unfortanatly had to take life from young and old in iraq and also loose my closest friends as they stood watching my back in iraq in 2003 thru 2006 ..and it scared me in many ways but by taking art classes at bc i have felt calm in the first time in many years and think art in one way or another will help everyone who takes it . Even people who hate art will see its benefits if they to take some type of art class. I enjoyed reading your blog and thank you….lauren hudson

  4. Rebekah says:

    I really like the idea of artwork being another form of expressing data. I also agree that having someone critique something you’ve done can be a painful experience, but it is a necessary one if you want to grow. I really like the part about the shadows, it would indeed be very sad if shadows were only shades of gray, color is an amazing tool to express feelings and thoughts.

  5. Attila says:

    Toche’, the more I learn, the more I feel that the right brain, and left seem to be at odds with each other sociologically, and academically speaking. In plainer terminology, it seems like it has to be one or the other, and given how the cosmos seems to have developed with harmony having a great deal to do with nature, it seems only logical to follow suite with our studies……One complimenting, and helping the other develop, flourish, and delve into new frontiers (let us use math, and art as representatives of the left, and right side of our brains). So one might say I am in agreement with her assessment of art helping other cognitive functions develop acuity, for what is the Ying without the Yang? As far as associating art with beauty, least we not forget that beauty is often associated with symmetry, as in her reference to the golden mean in nature, which can be applied to data as well (I tend to get a bit theological in that I deem math the language of creation) As the universe progresses perhaps the symbiosis that is evident in organic nature, will evolve into one that machine, and nature will harmonize, and combine, thereby completing a cycle of creation, a combination of silicon, and carbon if you will…yet I digress, and as Brevity is said to be the Soul of Wit, I leave the critiquing commentary to be that I consider it all……constructive, and I’m definitely into the purple shadows..

  6. Liz says:

    As an artist, I love the idea of art classes being part of education–it’s not all that different from requiring a humanities course, after all. But in an increasingly digital age, where you have so much information bombarding you from everywhere, I think it’s becoming much more important to remember what it is to *create* something.
    Good art education is more than just putting pencil to paper, it’s about awakening the creative eye in everybody, something that you can use for the rest of your life, and creative thinking is a great asset in other, more left-brained fields.
    Also, and this just might be me, after a long day of school or work, there’s something very zen about going to the studio and finding solutions while drawing.

  7. B.Mendez says:

    I agree with this student. Art allows a student to use the right side of the brain, the creative side. Which could be usefull in other classes. Art could both be logical or illogical, it all depends on how you view your surroundings.

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