Saturday, March 22, 2008

Visual Communication - More Than Art

Students are being deprived of a complete education because many art teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators have been told that the goal of art education is "self-fulfillment and personal, creative self-expression". The effect of this limited view would be the same as if they thought the only purpose for learning to read and write is to read poetry and classical literature. If Reading and English teachers didn't acknowledge that words were one of the ways to learn, think and communicate about everything, their subject area wouldn't be one of only two subject areas consistently taught and tested in schools. They have done such a good job of promoting English and mathematics that people now believe that words and numbers are the ONLY important ways to learn about the world. Even many art teachers believe that reading and writing are more important than seeing and making.

"Art", which I believe is better served by being referred to as something broader like "Visual Learning", just like reading and mathematics, has four main applications. Visualization is the common core and aesthetics is only a component. Visualization helps us learn, think, and communicate with images, objects, places and experiences for the purposes of:

Exploration - Fine Art is an important way people explore who they are and what it means to be human. Here we explore who we are as individuals situated in our time and place. For Visual Educators this is comparable to poetry and great literature in English and Reading - not a funding priority and not required or tested in schools. As important as the arts are to making us fully human and providing venues for self-fulfillment and personal expression, when funding and time are considerations in schools, these are the areas that are the first to be cut.

Enculturation - Visual Culture includes all the festivals, folk arts, crafts, holidays, popular culture, mass media, traditions, rituals and vernacular items that make us part of cultural groups. Here we explore who we are as members of cultural groups and learn to be better citizens in our communities. For Visual Educators this is comparable to Social Studies and popular literature in English classes. As important as this area is, this still only puts Visual Learning on a par with Social Studies which is the least valued of the four traditional "core" subjects.

Application - Design is a term we could apply to visualization and innovation applied to making everyday experiences better for everyone. This purpose is closer to why science, reading and mathematics are required subjects in school. Images, objects, places and experiences, like words and numbers, have useful applications for learning, thinking, doing, understanding, making, and communicating about everything in the world. This puts us on a par with Science, which is traditionally the third most valuable of the four core subjects. As important as the area of application is, even Science is not yet regularly tested in schools.

Communication - Visual Communication skill development is the fundamental reason we have schools. Right now people believe that words and numbers are the most important ways we communicate important ideas in the world. We have failed to impress on people how images, objects, places and experiences are also important tools for learning, thinking, and communicating important ideas rather than only tools for self-exploration and self-expression. By emphasizing Visual Communication we can help people see that learning with our eyes, hands, and bodies through images, objects, places and experiences is as important as learning with words and numbers. Understanding the basic, fundamental value of making and using images, objects, places and experiences would put us on a par with reading and mathematics in schools. Basic communication is the only area of education in schools that is never cut when budgets and time are constricted.

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