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The Role of Art in Education

What value does the art gallery experience have in an already crowded school curriculum?

From my view, it is that art is one of the most powerful forms of self-expression available to the human mind. Art can explore anything, from the literal to the spiritual.

The very existence of a work of art implies an individual, a process, a culture, a society, and a time period. In this sense, the skill of perceiving works of art becomes the skill of perceiving life itself.

Where art seeks to imitate nature, for instance, it stimulates viewers in their perception of nature in all its minutiae. Looking at a landscape by the Australian artist Fred Williams, with its minimalized symbolic elements of trees and hills, adapts eyes to detecting such forms in nature. In this function, art “vivifies the particular,” heightening awareness for finding the extraordinary in the “ordinary” things of life.

Art, too, reveals the character of societies. Roman art, with its triumphal monuments, portrait heads, and narrative murals of war and mythology, was an art of propaganda. This is also true of the revolutionary art of Neoclassicism or of Social Realism. Each served as a vehicle for transmitting political messages to the wider public of its times.

A museum or gallery offers much that cannot be gleaned in classrooms or from books or television. The gallery is a special space created and encapsulated within a building that differentiates itself from the world outside its walls. This space is designed and arranged specifically for displaying and contemplating art objects. It provides a unique environment where students can have close experiences of texture, size, color, and form. It is a place where the “real thing” — a work of art — can be discovered in a world that offers few originals.

An understanding of the devices employed by artists in al! genres teaches students perceptual skills that can be used, not only on art, but on the whole of life. Such perceptual abilities bring with them a fuller awareness — an ability to see into and beyond the simple appearance of things. Skills acquired through gathering and comprehending the insights and messages of art are thus an essential contribution to the schema of a well-rounded human being equipped to cope with the vicissitudes of life.

Visits to the art gallery also reinforce messages of continued learning. A place where students can see adults continuing to perceive and learn after leaving the formal classroom behind, the art gallery also offers young people constructive alternatives for filling leisure time and for pursuing personal interests.

Margaret Love has been a voluntary gallery guide, or docent, at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth since 1978. She recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Western Australia. In conjunction with her honors dissertation, Ms. Love conducted an international survey of art docents. The results of that survey appeared in an article she authored for the Spring 1994 issue of The Docent Educator.

Love, Margaret. “The Role of Art in Education,” The Docent Educator 4.1 (Autumn 1994): 20.

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