Joseph Beuys’ concept of ‘social sculpture’ is an important philosophical theory and social practice that unites the fields of fine art and education. As a conceptual artist and educator, Beuys advocated for human beings to make beneficial contributions to society through art. A social sculptor is anyone who creates an artistic structure within their community utilizing social interactions, collaboration and physical objects or environments. This theory is intrinsically connected to the educational sphere because educators facilitate these kinds of experiences in their classrooms.
Artistic learning is a vital aspect in an individual’s understanding of the world and their place within the human experience. In art there are no right or wrong ways to approach a problem. Art teachers set up circumstances that allow students to formulate social, emotional and cognitive understandings about how to aesthetically shape their own ideas, identities and perspectives. Art educators, Elliot Eisner and Judith Burton, each have asserted that thinking artfully addresses moments in life that cannot be approached using formulas and rules. Learning through creative engagement activates certain artistic habits of mind (Burton, 2000 and Eisner 2002), such as exhibiting empathy, flexible purposing (a John Dewey term that describes how thinking enables shifting directions and finding many outcomes or new avenues of insight), making judgements in the absence of rules and resisting closure (i.e. not being complacent with one method or solution. Think about going with the flow and trusting the process rather than a preconceived notion of the product/final result).
One of the most beneficial aspects of these artistic habits of mind is that applying creative thinking and acting to everyday experiences can help us develop as well-rounded individuals. Through analyzing, creating and reflecting on works of art and aesthetic experiences, we train ourselves to think critically and creatively. Because the arts are both individual and collective expressions of culture and the human condition, studying art can lead to a more comprehensive observation of our surroundings, as well as a more empathetic understanding of one another.
In summary, artistic learning offers us the confidence and ability to become active learners, expressive communicators and determined problem solvers beyond the scope of pragmatism. Not everyone will or should become professional artists, however they can employ elements of artfulness in their daily lives in order to succeed in many circumstances beyond art making.
“Everyone is an artist” is a great mantra to prompt us to become mindfully intuitive and responsive to the world around us.
References, Notes, Suggested Reading:
Burton, Judith. “The Configuration of Meaning: Learner-Centered Art Education Revisited.” Studies in Art Education, 41:4, 330-345, 2000.
Cufarro, H (1995). Experience: Variety and Continuity. In Experimenting with the World (pp. 55-67). New York, NY: TC Press.
Eisner, E. (2002, September) What the Arts Do for the Young, SchoolArts, (pp. 16-17).
Eisner, E. (2002). What the arts teach and how it shows. In The arts and the creation of mind (pp. 70-92). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.