Art and education sparks dialogue at ACAC Artist Survival Skills Lecture by Luis Camnitzer

By Ashley Easton

Art and education.

The two words paired together at this particular juncture in time tend to evoke a number of things: students, teachers, budget cuts, the rapidly dwindling arts programs in public schools, or perhaps private art schools and universities that now often teach not only fine arts but practical arts, like commercial illustration, animation, and graphic design. The topic of art and education, in fact, concerns a large number of working artists, whether they are directly involved in the classroom or not.

Artist and critic Luis Camnitzer’s talk at the Contemporary last Saturday focused on exploring the state of the relationship between the arts and education. About forty people attended the event to hear Camnitzer share his ideas and hopes of what education through art (and conversely, art as a vehicle for learning) might accomplish.


Luis Camnitzer at the Contemporary
Luis Camnitzer at The Contemporary, an audio recording of his talk is available on the Contemporary’s site.

Camnitzer began his talk by speaking on the nature of traditional education as we know it today. Basically, it is a system in which the teacher (the entity with knowledge) dispenses information (indoctrinates) the student (the entity lacking knowledge.) He added that learning of what is known, without learning to identify and explore what is unknown, results in delayed development of a young person’s ability to both conceptualize and question pre-established methods of order and thinking. This could be remedied, he suggests, if the teacher’s role shifted to become that of an intermediary between a student and knowledge, rather than the purveyor of knowledge.

In his talk, Camnitzer called art “a means to acquire and explore knowledge.” In order for art to be used as a tool for learning, he explains the traditional preconceptions of art must be broken down and a more pragmatic view of art should be adopted. No muses. No fine craftsmanship simply for its own sake. No vanity. No excessive reverence or adulation of artists. He added, “Since the muses don’t exist, self-indulgence shouldn’t, either,” as it makes the artist feel good, but doesn’t do much for anyone else. Camnitzer holds the view that “individualist art,” while self-indulgent, is simply a means of coping with a largely dysfunctional, often disordered world.

Camnitzer hopes that art can become a more commonly utilized means for exploration, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication. The process of art, in this view, would include exploration, identifying an interesting or important problem, exploring the problem, and (sometimes) creating a solution, which should be presented in “the best possible way.”

The talk was well-received by the attendees, and it spurred a lively Q&A that went on for some time. In fact, Stuart Horodner, Artistic Director of the Contemporary Art Center had to intervene with a final question to draw the morning’s event to a close. What are your thoughts on art and education? Is art inherently didactic? Can it be? Should it be? Let’s keep the dialogue going.

Teachers and arts educators may be interested in checking out the blog Art IS Education, maintained by the Alameda County (CA) Office of Education’s Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership.

Ashley Easton is a writer living in Atlanta.

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