Art as emotional education

This morning, I read an interesting quote from David Brooks, “While our scholastic education is formal and supervised, our emotional education, the one we glean on our own from artists and musicians, is more important to our long-term happiness.”

I had never thought about art (and music, which I include in “the arts”) as emotional education. It’s an appropriate concept, and especially important and vital in an era when values are shifting away from merit-as-price-tag and status-based evaluation.

It’s also important as we consider even more budget cuts in our schools, and how we can resolve deficit-related issues that are (or will be) affecting our daily lives… such as what our children are taught in school.

Unless we ensure that art remains in people’s educations — particularly future generations’ — they may lose sight of the importance of the arts.

Vatican-ColumnsThat’s already happened, and it’s one reason why so many artists struggle to survive as full-time artists.

We’ve fallen far from the time when influential families (such as the Medicis) made certain that their communities had access to the very best art possible.

Then again, a quick glance at the actual art incorporated in architecture confirms that this has been a growing issue for centuries. When we have to mandate 1% for art, and similar programs, and compare that with the amount of visible, permanent art in the buildings we revere from the past… well, the contrast is startling.

petroglyphs_venezuelaWhether we’re talking about the pyramids, cathedrals, or caves in France, the conversations almost always return to the art that’s part of them.  In structures such as the pyramids and cathedrals, that art was permanent.  It wasn’t entirely art — such as paintings and free-standing sculptures — displayed there, it was an integral part of the structure.

That’s an appropriate analogy for what’s happened to art in our society, and our values.

What will people spend money on, as an innate, knee-jerk reaction? A quick survey of the “impulse items” at the grocery store check-out line reveals what appeals to us as a society: Candy, and publications featuring unhappy gossip.

sketching-monalisaIn most households, “original art” is grade-school work temporarily housed on the front of the refrigerator.

Commercial reproductions of art (paintings and photos) aren’t the same as original art, but they’re better than nothing.

I’m not sure what it will take to restore original art — in general — as a valuable part of our everyday lives.

Yes, one can argue that some art sells for astronomically high prices, particularly at auction.   However, that art is generally purchased by people whose educations — at the finest schools money can buy — as well as their home environments, taught them the value of art.

In today’s economy, when we propose additional art education in our schools, the retort is, “Yes, but who’s going to pay for it?”

My flippant response might be: The arts need a bailout (or a resurgence) more than companies realizing the logical consequences of mismanagement.

In fact, we don’t just need a resurgence of the arts… they may be vital to our future survival.

When we look at world and local headlines, the emotional toll of violence is clear.  The logical (and very emotional) response to violence is, “How could anyone do that…?”

Perhaps some of those acts of violence are committed as carelessly as some people — oblivious to the love and care of a gardener — trample plants and flowers to create a “shortcut” to where they’re going.

It gets back to education.  It’s not just telling people that art is valuable, it’s showing them its emotional value.  And, it goes beyond a one-hour-a-week class.  This kind of appreciation for art must begin in the home.

However, I’m also mindful of what’s practical. This won’t be achieved overnight, and probably not in one generation.

newgrange-250w-pdphotoWe have to start somewhere.

In an economy defaulting to one-income households — which were the norm when I was growing up — perhaps we can take the time to volunteer as artists in the schools.

I’m aware that this sets a dangerous precedent, and school administrators may then expect art and art instruction to be provided, free of charge.

I’d counter that argument with the popularity of concerts.  Because we are exposed to popular music daily on radio and TV — free of charge — people continue to place a high value on concerts.

My point is: To recover the perceived value of art, particularly the visual arts, we have to begin somewhere.  We need to educate people — starting with children — about the importance of art, not just as art but as Brooks’ said, “emotional education.”

It may take a generation or two to even begin this project.  However, it’s a vital project not just for artists but for our society.

You could volunteer at

  • a Scout troop,
  • a community center,
  • a daycare center,
  • a church, or
  • a school.

It could be a weekly or monthly commitment — for as long as you’re able to — or a one-time event.

Whether you teach others to create art or about the arts, or take a child (your own or neighbors’) to an art gallery or museum, or read a book about art with your book club or your family, start now.

It’s not just about art, it’s about emotional education.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Teddy Roosevelt.

Photo credits:
Vatican columns – Sorina Bindea, Romania
Petroglyphs in Venezuela – Franklin Carrera, Venezuela
Street artist – Valentina Jori, Italy
Newgrange carvings – Jon Sullivan, US (

You can reprint this article (and its illustrations) on your own website if you like, as long as the article remains intact and has a link back to

Musing Over Chicken Bones

Aisling's BlogI just learned that, if you soak chicken bones in vinegar for three days, they become flexible. [use #10, here]

Now, I’m wondering if you rinse and dry them, do they become rigid again? Would baking them help? Hmm…

If that works, can you bend the bones into weird and wonderful shapes, and let them set that way, for jewelry? I have no idea, but it sounds cool.

Taking it a step further, can you bleach them and carve on them, scrimshaw style? Will this work for other inexpensive bones that I can ask for at the meat counter of the grocery store?

This is how an artist’s brain works, sometimes. Will I ever actually test these theories? Maybe. Probably not. So, I’m sharing them with you, just in case they spark your creativity.

Focus, professionalism and clutter

Aisling's BlogLast night, I made a list of what I want to do in the life I’d like to lead. In order of importance: painting, travel, fabric art, and writing.

Then, I listed what I’d need for each. Okay, travel involves a ticket and throwing stuff into a suitcase. But everything else…

I was astonished to realize that I need the least stuff for painting, then for fabric art, and… well, my hoard of writing-related stuff is obscene. I can’t even list it all. I have boxes & boxes of cool articles and notes that I’m saving, “in case I ever write about this.”

Hello, that’s what a good library is for.

I also looked at all the sewing stuff that I own, with the idea that I’ll use it for fabric art someday. By contrast, when I was making quilts & wall hangings professionally, I’d buy a few bolts of fabric, use them up making quilts, give away the scraps, and then go buy more bolts… and the occasional accent fabric or two.

When I’m actively working in a field, professionally, I tend to use up everything that I own. I don’t keep clutter.

In fact, I’m currently reducing how much stuff I use for painting. I’m looking at the number of tubes of paint I use, and how many of those colors could be mixed from other colors that I own.

In other words, the more professional (and productive) I am in a field, the less clutter I own, related to it.

This is on the heels of spending a day and a half looking for my glue gun, to complete the project for Go-Make-Art.

It would have been better if I’d just tossed out the old glue gun and spent the $1.99 replacing it when I needed it again.

(Okay, that’d be wasteful. My point is, I own too much clutter when I can’t find my basic tools to produce art that I claim to be professional at.)

More De-Clutter Inspiration

Aisling's BlogPart of making more time (and space) for art involves being absolutely ferocious about decluttering. I like this article by Merlin at 43 Folders, in which he says, “If the stuff that you accumulate doesn’t help get you closer to the life you want to have, it’s simply not worth keeping. Period.”

I look at all of my stuff and how much of it is about the life that I currently have.

I look at how much I justify with the idea, “Well, if I use this stuff to make something, and then I sell it, I might make the money that I need to live the life that I want to have.”

And then I spend a week (or two or three) making whatever-it-is. I spend money on additional supplies that I’ll only use half of… and then the rest of those supplies go into my boxes, with some idea that “I might need this some day.” (I really hate buying supplies twice… especially if they aren’t things that I use in art that I’ll keep.)

I drop everything else that I’m working on, to get whatever-it-is completed and out the door. I throw it on my blog, or into etsy or eBay.

And then it doesn’t sell. Or, it sells for less than the hours that I put into it, even at minimum wage. Or, I just break even on the supplies, period. The time is gone, forever.

Hello, why do I keep doing this?

I think that I have to be even more harsh with myself. I may need to wholly eliminate anything that I’m working on with some idea that it’ll make the money that I need.

I think that I should start living the life that I want. I need to trust that the wherewithal will show up, or I’ll see opportunities within the context of the life that I want… not the life that I’ve had enough of, thank you very much.

When I’m creating something, if it’s not something that I’d want to keep/own myself, maybe I shouldn’t be making it. I need to quit looking at what other people are doing, while I’m thinking, “Sure, I could make something equally as good, and then I could sell it at a profit, too.”

Whether or not I can make something well is not the issue. It’s coming down to the energy in whatever-it-is, and if I see real value (as opposed to “that’s nice,” commercial value) in it.

Even “cute” art needs to be taken off my to-do list.

If it’s not about painting and making fabric art (quilts, wearables, wall hangings, very artsy dolls/figures), I think that it has to go away.

In a comment at the article linked above, someone named Cora said, “I got out a few sheets of crisp paper. I imagined my day and then my year, and wrote down the stuff I thought I’d need. Then I wrote down all the things I planned to achieve that year, and got rid of anything that didn’t fit, even things I really wanted to do or new things I wanted to learn. If it was unlikely I’d pursue it in the next 12 months, I just let it go — stuff might be outdated by then anyway.”

I think that I’m going to do that, but for six months (in keeping with “The 4-Hour Work Week”), and see what I end up with. That’d be interesting.