A chapter fragment

9. Art, Education and Spirit: United

“We cannot solve our present problems using the same type of thinking which created them” (Albert Einstein)

Being artistic is not the opposite of being practical. Far from it: to be a true artist one must draw on practical skills. Likewise to be truly practical, one must draw on creative skills. However, due to the advent of mass production of goods and specialisation of skills, these two facets of humankind’s potentiality have been separated out over time and made to appear as opposing qualities.

Those who channel their artistic skills into making fine foods, forged metals agricultural equipment, pottery bowls and handsome wooden tables were – and still are – called ‘artisans’. Here we see the direct link between art and practical necessity. The two are united. The artisan is an individual concerned with quality in all things he or she does. Quality of this nature cannot be mass produced on a factory production line for an ever increasing monetary return – although it can be imitated in this way.

Everyone born into this world is an artist in potentiality. Every baby born is, in his or her innocence, a fertile seed of art and spirit. An as yet unexpressed aspirant , deeply curious about the make-up of life, reaching out to experience and touch the cosmic game which is ’cause’ and ‘effect’, and express wonderment at the way even the smallest objects move and resonate.

A society that wishes to find fulfilment will need to take note of this precious seed, and ensure that it is carefully planted in a fertile soil. The word education comes from the latin ‘educare’, meaning ‘to lead out from’. So ‘education’ is the process whereby those who take on the role of educators (teachers) have the task of encouraging that which is already there in potential, to become realised in actuality.

Teachers take many forms: mothers and fathers, older brothers and sisters, elders, leaders, craftsmen, school / university teachers, to name but a few. But there is one crucial qualification: to be a good teacher one must share with the child that curiosity which acts as a spur to – and impetus for – creativity in all daily concerns. Without this curiosity there can be no positive process of change. No positive change, means being stuck in a downward spiral of stagnation, decay and ultimately death. This is largely the situation we find ourselves in to-day.

How has it got so bad?

An over-emphasis on academic achievement has dominated western educational programmes for many decades, increasingly at the expense of vocational skills. Such an over-emphasis on academic and intellectual strengths creates an imbalance in overall emotional development, starving children and young adults of the all-round development of their potentialities which brings balance and harmony into everyday life.

Strong institutional pressures to turn out stereotyped individuals, whose main purpose is to maintain the vested interests of society, have remained largely unchallenged throughout academic and western school systems. Some notable exceptions have demonstrated more holistic approaches, but such approaches were not adopted by mainstream educational establishments, which have continued to use the old formula to this day. Within this system, even those teachers with the best intentions, struggle to elicit and nurse creativity and curiosity in their pupils and students.

When we consider what factors underlie the deep unease and restless nature of our western societies, we cannot help but note the role of education as making a dominant contribution. What we call education today, has little to do with encouraging real creativity, or indeed, life curiosity. Rather than being an attempt to ‘lead out from’ and to realise the latent potential in each child or young person, contemporary education systems (and most earlier ones) are more concerned with attempts to ‘push into’. To ensure heads are crammed full of facts and figures, and the knowledge required to pass the all important exams that ensure the school’s place in to-days highly competitive league tables. Also, of course, ensuring that students reach a higher level of education and a better chance of finding a job that will offer a good monetary return.

As long as education is primarily an exam factory, concerned with encouraging the young to conform to fixed patterns of learning, it will be impossible to change society for the better, and the current status quo will retain its sterile grip on all areas of our lives.

The fact that this is the situation we find ourselves in to-day, explains to a significant degree, why our societies are not evolving in a positive direction and becoming more generally enlightened. It also explains why neither we, nor our societies, are being positively shaped by the real potential which remains innate and largely untapped in nearly all of us.

Although words such as ‘progress’ are blithely used to describe the stumbling advances of a largely technologically fixated society, it is – upon examination – often a deeply misleading concept. ‘Progress’ which goes hand in hand with, or is dependent upon, the misuse and abuse of irreplaceable natural resources – including human life – cannot be seen as anything other than a deliberate deception. A twisting of language to convey a sense of improvement, while in reality things are steadily getting worse.

Unless and until artistry and spirit, in contact with nature and formative practical skills, form the centre ground in society, this regressive state will continue and both human and planetary life will be suffocated.

Julian Rose, 2009