Education and the Arts

Education is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. Mark Twain

The title of this article should immediately bring into mind three questions. What is education: What are the arts? How are the two related? The first question we will not answer, for it undoubtedly is being defined and discussed elsewhere in this issue. To the second question we offer a simple answer. We will consider only the more common and easily understood arts, namely, painting, sculpture, music, and literature. The answer to the third question will comprise the body of this article, but we can summarize it briefly in two statements. Education, ideally, plays two roles in its relation to the arts. First, it develops a sense of appreciation; secondly, it produces the artist.

Appreciation is a misunderstood term, due largely to common usage of the root word. When we hear someone say, “I appreciate it,” we assume he means that he likes something or is grateful for it. Applied to the arts, however, its meaning is deeper. It really means to understand something, to judge it correctly, to be fully sensible of it. Therefore, someone who appreciates a poem is one who understands it more or less fully. A course in music appreciation is not designed to make the student like music, but to make him understand it, to see its structure, its coherence, its beauty.

Some understanding is basic to enjoyment. While a person who knows relatively nothing about a symphony may enjoy listening to it, his enjoyment will not be as great as that of one who understands it analytically and synthetically. The same thing applies to the other forms of art. Some simple poetry is almost universally liked, but one who understands poetry can get much more enjoyment from the more complex, because, analyzing, judging, and evaluating it, he can see that its beauty is greater.

This appreciation of art seldom, perhaps never, comes naturally. It must be developed slowly and gradually. This can be done only by education. The process often seems wearisome and tiring; often it is hard work. But the results pay for the toil. In this aspect the role of education can be clearly seen. By critically analyzing works of art, by explaining their strengths and weaknesses, by seeing their structure, by noting the skillful hand of the craftsman, the teacher may not make his students like these works, but he inevitably increases their appreciation. The task is not one-sided, however. The student who is or makes himself interested, the student who studies and strives is the student who will understand the most and later find the greatest enjoyment.

But education should do more than develop appreciation. It should begin to produce the artist. Not all can be artists, for not all have the necessary God-given talents. Yet, with very rare exception, the talented artist can do little unless he learns how to express himself. His talents cannot be buried and then earn more talents. They can be developed only through knowledge and practice. Education will give him this knowledge and the opportunity for expression.

One phenomenon of American education, true to a greater degree in our schools, is the emphasis of the literary arts. Most of us, even those who have gone through college, have a much greater knowledge of literature than of sculpture, painting, or music. Most of us undoubtedly know next to nothing of these three.

The reason is not hard to understand. Perhaps one picture can say as much as a thousand words, but most of us could manipulate the thousand words better than a paint brush. Secondly, words are usually easier to understand than other symbols; we derive more meaning from a story, essay, or poem than from a concerto or a statue. Thirdly, because this is the case, words are a more powerful weapon in the arsenal of the defense of Truth and more effective in the preaching and spread of the Gospel.

We must not forget, however, that the other arts reveal other God-given talents and are to be used in His fear. Beyond any doubt, we are lax in not giving them a larger place, in our educational systems and in our personal lives.

To restate the parable of the talents is hardly necessary. But to examine our lives in the light of its truth is always imperative. The one who “humbly” claims that he has no talent may actually be too handy with the shovel.