Ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about this. Yes, we remember them for their great inventions and ideas, perhaps their philosophies, but one thing I think really contrasts their culture with ours: they appreciated the artist.
When I was at school I wanted to go into the art world. Now keep in mind had I done so I would have been the right age and in the right world to be surfing the wave of those producing computer animation, and the explosion of visuals used in advertising. I don’t regret my career path which quickly led to being married to my wonderful wife for 23 years (together for 25) and working with young people professionally, and more recently as a minister. But at the time, my tutors just told me that there was no money in art, unless you were a teacher. So receiving some bad advice, and despite the fact I was already selling some smaller pieces, I ended up at the age of 18 starting A-levels in maths, physics and geography hoping to be a surveyor. At least it would get me outdoors.
I failed dismally, ended up in office jobs for 4 years, (and a gap year) and it nearly wiped me out through depression. Thank goodness for God in my life and my wife!
For the Greeks, artists and ‘clever people’ were on equal footing. They would study the same, and be expected to produce to the best of their ability. So no cop out. But there was no attitude of trying to make money, simply beauty. Leave the finance and war for others.
Now I know that people will come back at me over this one. But lets face it, there is little enough beauty out there, and the only artists who have found success in the last few centuries have been dead ones, or shock ones (either their own life-style or because of the art they produce.)
But can art help education? I know that when I am producing artwork I don’t just relax, I get a sense my brain feels different. It’s like a vice around my head is suddenly relaxed. I’ve noticed I tip my head from left to right when I am ‘in the zone’. I even use it now a little to help me in my own devotion time in my work as a priest. Which is why I am producing more artwork, I guess. That and I seem to have a number of people asking me for pieces – always happy to produce, its the act of doing it that makes it work, rather than what I produce.
So for lots of kids, I think art can help. It relieves stress, and helps you to get out on paper some emotions. You can lose yourself in the art too. However there is a downside. Not everyone can produce pictures, and even good artists in the early days face frustrations that they know what they want it to look like but it just won’t flow out of their fingers.
Actually even when you are an artist that’s a problem! (struggling to illustrate the right kind of robin at the moment…)
So whilst this might help some kids, there are some that are just going to keep getting frustrated.
Here’s a thought though. When I was at school, which wasn’t the happiest of places, one of the things I enjoyed about art was being able to talk whilst I worked. And even those people who bullied me, for some reason were quite pleasant while we worked over brushes. There was no posing, no putting each other down. In fact they thought I should be a professional!
So perhaps one reason for art being good isn’t actually just about being artisan or productive, or creative, but actually it’s the opportunity it gives people to talk, to relate to one another in community, which is one of the hearts of what it means to be human.
If I were to consider this in terms of my role as a Christian minister, then I would have to say that much of this has to do with the fact that we are created in the image of God. He is a creative God, and he is a God in community – though community with himself…we call it the trinity, though you can only really understand that he is the 3 in 1 by approaching it from Greek logic!
So what do you think? Should this country invest more in art because teachers are saying that it’s getting worse in the classrooms…or do we need armies of young people who are able to be productive members of society rather than simply make beautiful things, and art to help society reflect on itself?