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    Art and the MindAuthor(s): Martin EngelSource: Art Education, Vol. 36, No. 2, Art and the Mind (Mar., 1983), pp. 6-8Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 05:52

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  • Art and

    the Mind

    "While learning language or mathematics is not the same thing as learning music, or drawing, these are all in some sense symbolic codes generated by our minds, received and processed by them..."

    Martin Engel Guest Editor

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    L et me begin right off by starting the point of this special issue of Art Education: Art is the con-

    sequence of human thought. Art is a product of the mind. What artists make are images or symbols; meaningful markings, sounds, movements, and other events the purpose of which is to communicate these meanings. Works of art are symbolic constructs that contain "information" which is transmitted from the artist to the perceiver. I state this so assertively because these fun- damental conceptions of art and the ar- tistic process have gotten lost (or have never been widely understood) until recently. Heretofore the arts, and arts education, have been conceived in essen- tially Romantic ways: an affair of the heart instead of the mind. Missing has been the conception of the arts as mat- ters of the intellect: that is, teachable and learnable skills that are not depen-

    dent upon native talent, mysterious creativity, or divine inspiration. Indeed, education in the arts would benefit im- measurably from an interpretation of "talent" as a form of intelligence-the "knowing" that exists already in the mind, "creativity" as the productive management of that intelligence, and "inspiration" and "intuition" as men- tal processes; that is, functions of the in- tellect. More about this later.

    I will state the case even more vigorously, arguing that the absence of this cognitive conception of the arts (and education in the arts) has relegated them to a frivolous, irrelevant, and expen- dable role within the school curriculum. Moreover, until and unless the arts are taught in the schools as the cognitive- that is, intellectual/mental disciplines that they are, there is no good reason for having them there at all. It is likely that many educators in the arts do not truly

    believe that the arts can be taught, but rather feel that one can only provide opportunities-exposure, materials, and time-and give the creative spontaneity within each child free reign. Fortunate- ly, language and mathematics teachers do not believe this. Unfortunately, those art teachers who do, deprive their students of the learning of certain basic cognitive skills.

    This issue of Art Education has gathered together 18 leading educator- researcher-theorists who, one way or another, advocate a cognitivist position. All are university based academics who have published extensively. Several are the leading pioneers in this field. All have contributed significantly to the establishment of a rapidly growing house of thought, to which this journal seeks to add another useful building block. It is the purpose of this special issue to set forth such a theory through

    Art Education March 1983

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  • the various articles which make the case for the cognitive position in the arts.

    The authors differ widely in their perspectives and positions within the broad spectrum of ideas in the world of theories of perception, knowledge, and symbolization. Some address the pro- blem as psychologists. Others as arts educators, philosophers, or teachers of arts teachers. Yet they all share this cen- tral common bond: they all believe that the arts are about something, and that they are the consequence of thought; i.e. the mind at work; that mental processes frame meanings embodied in the mak- ing of works of art; and, that meanings are to be derived from an understanding of the work of art by the perceiver. In short, they believe that perception is a mental activity and a working of the mind.

    What has this theoretical research and speculation to do with education in the arts and with the business of instruction that engages the practitioners in the schools and classrooms? Just this: art can be taught, and it can be learned. Making and understanding art is a skill and craft. These skills-these crafts- can be acquired as the consequence of a curriculum, a structured instructional process, pedagogical effectiveness, and adequately motivated students, like teaching and learning any other sym- bolic language and discipline. In the case of the visual arts, for example, this means that making pictures and reading them entails considerable skill. When such skills attain a level of proficiency, it is possible to produce pictures which may be called art. (All pictures, after all, are not art. All movement is not dance. All sound is not music. Only when drawing or painting or making melodies is raised qualitatively to a very high level can we say that we are approaching works of art. Before we can write poetry, we must first learn to write language. Before we can read and understand poetry, we must first learn to read and understand language. So it is with the other arts. Pictures need to be "decoded" and comprehended in ways that are not unlike language, especially if they are works of art.)

    This issue of Art Education presents a group of arguments, rooted in research, in order to make a compelling case for the position which I have sket- ched so roughly and which is drawn with a much finer hand by these authors. In my euphoric fantasy I envision this

    special issue to push, like a harbor tug, the great ship of art education into a dramatically different direction, away from the Romanticised meaningless manipulation of materials, the emotion saturated rhetoric, the purely experienc- tial aspects of arts instruction. To put it somewhat facetiously, arts educators have- painted themselves into a concep- tual corner. If the arts are so extraor- dinary, so special, so subjective, so deep within each of us (although only the talented and inspired can make signifi- cant art) as is claimed by many educators, then they can have little place in the schools; they are an irrepressible force within all children and academic constraints merely stultify the artistic urge.

    Some of these articles are not easy reading. Theorists and researchers are given to different and sometimes dif- ficult styles of writing and a diffuse language that obliges the reader to ex- ercise patience. Each article needs to be read carefully, preferably several times. Even the seemingly simple are not. They make profound points about which we must give careful thought.

    Let me reiterate some basic points here. The arts are the consequence of cognitive functioning. Our perceptions are generated by and are a part of the same mind that thinks, learns, and knows. While learning language or mathematics is not the same thing as learning music, or drawing, these are all in some sense symbolic codes generated by our minds, received and processed by them, and this is the central point: these are all skills which can be taught and can be learned. Indeed, the craft and skill of making and receiving the arts must be learned no less than language or mathematics. And this rationale, I believe, justifies the inclusion of the arts in the school agenda. For many arts educators, this rationale will require a whole new way of thinking about the arts. It demands a new vocabulary and a different attitude about what con- stitutes instruction in the arts and how that is to be conducted.

    The Mind and Art Rather than encapsulate some very elaborate arguments offered by each of the authors in this collection, I offer in- stead an introductory vocabulary and a simple dynamic model of the mind. The term "mind" at least for our purposes here is the mental portion of ourselves,

    and it may be understood to be the phenomenon generated by and function- ing within the body, or the nervous system and the brain in particular. The mind is the us that is not our physical selves. Cognition-thinking and knowing-is what the mind does.

    This mind is unified, active, construc- tive, self-creating, and symbol making. It is and it does. Furthermore, I would argue that the mind feels as well as thinks; that feelings and emotions are kinds of thought. Among the things the mind does are: structuring, conceiving, thinking, feeling, knowing, imagining, emoting, believing, intuiting, creating, storing, playing, dreaming, reflecting, judging, perceiving, fantasizing, and symbolizing. Concepts are the mental structures, the thoughts, ideas, images, and schemas. Perceptions are concep- tually mediated sensations. The sensa- tions are the signals received by the sen- sorium, the sense receptors. Through perception, the mind "controls" what we receive in our minds from our sen- sorium. Finally, concepts refer to the mental structures, the organizations of thought whereby our minds give shape to our knowing. The term "composi- tion" can refer to the cognitively ordered musical work, the organization of the picture, or the coherent written essay. It is the mind that does the com- posing. The mind needs and thrives on information which it receives from the outside, and which it generates itself. Homo significans means man the sym- bol maker, the maker of meanings, who must externalize his construction of the world to know or re-cognize that world. I dare say that there is much disagree- ment about my use of these terms. Nonetheless their use may serve to redirect the reader's thinking toward the much greater breadth attributed to cognition than has heretofore been com- mon when considering instruction in the arts.

    The common notion that the arts grow out of the soul or the heart, while mathematics is the business of the mind, is a fallacious duality. We fall in love and solve logical problems with different schema within one and the same mind. Our physical, as well as our mental skills, reside within our minds. Our language, as well as our music, or dance, or architecture, emerges from, as it is received by, our minds. The mind not only receives, structures, stores, generates, and reforms information in-

    Art Education March 1983 7

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  • to thought and knowledge; it also ex- presses it through external representa- tions which we may call symbolization or symbol systems.

    The variety or modes of symboliza- tion are rich and diverse. The making of objects, dramatic structures, music, ex- pressive gestures and movement, stylistic and formal arrangements of language into story or poem; these can all be ar- tistic modes of symbolization. These works of art, as products of the mind, become the collective knowledge embedded within cultural artifacts. What we know to be reality, that which we perceive and believe to be, is the con- text in which we symbolize. The artist, no less than the scientist, is the observer/ thinker/believer. It is the process of cognition and then recognition, presen- tation and then representation that af- fords the artist the channels from inner mental state to external symbolic system, the making of meaningful compositons.

    This composition, this external representation, is the syntactic/semantic expressive, artistic phenomenon. The maker is also the receiver of the mean- ing, message, or experience of the work. Knowledge of the code (as is the case with language) is necessary to make as well as to receive the meanings of which the particular symbol system is capable.

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    The effectiveness of the symbol depends upon technical craft and workmanship, competence and comprehension, that makes the work in its clarity or ambigui- ty, simplicity or complexity, transmit its meanings.

    The articles in this issue consider either one or several of these aspects in the process. They address the nature and function of the symbolizer, the nature of the symbol (the work of art, or the picture), the process of symbolization, the development of the human organism as it attains the capacity to produce and receive these symbolic codes, or some combination of these. The authors con- cern themselves with the processes of perception and its relationship to the mind, the different ways the mind gen...