A few years ago I gave art workshops in some Kenyan schools where children painted sounds of drum expressed through shapes, colours and emotions. Created works were exhibited in schools and communities to engage in conversations about the experience. The workshops aimed to stimulate creativity - the ability to think beyond the norm, and aesthetics - the sense of beauty in everything we see and hear.
Why? Because our creative capacity is not possible without aesthetics. Creativity and aesthetics go hand in hand. Evaluation of creativity always requires a judgement of beauty. Buckminster Fuller, a renowned inventor, used to say that a problem-solving is wrong when it is not beautiful. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize physicist, believed that truth is always recognised by its beauty. And according to Kant, genius is a creator of new aesthetic values. Aesthetics is not the goal of creativity but it is it’s essential component.
As creativity increasingly emerges as ‘the vision of future’ - for example, the World Economic Forum declared creativity the engine of future growth and prosperity and a top skill required by employers by 2020 - learning aesthetics is paramount. It is not an inborn knowledge. It is a result of our upbringing and education.
Aesthetics is the science of beauty in art and nature. Although beauty can be subjective, there are certain things - harmony, excellence and intelligence - that are considered beautiful by everyone. Aesthetics teaches us to think about the ideas that underline artworks and the forms that express those ideas.
It also helps to discover how art makes us feel and affects our beliefs and attitudes. While we create, appreciate and analyse works of art, we develop aesthetic knowing, which we emulate and apply in all realms of life. Aesthetics is not ‘useless’, it has a practical purpose.
However, children and young people rarely learn aesthetics in school. Most of the adult population too, even in developed countries, lacks aesthetic experience. Museums, theatres, concert halls and even reading a good book remain alien to many people. Substandard TV, music and fiction entertainment as well as harsh urban environment do not encourage aesthetics learning. Fine art is largely accessed by art professionals rather than all people.
Aesthetics education demands efforts. Therefore as soon as children begin to ask ‘why?’ they should be introduced to art. When ‘why?’ is directed at artworks, children begin to develop aesthetic inquiry: From learning a vocabulary of terms and concepts to forming judgments and exploring the functions of art. Supported by teachers and parents, making art should be informed by the art’s sub-disciplines: Perception, art history, art criticism, and philosophy of art.
Perception is identifying and describing artworks. Art history is organising and classifying historical and cultural traditions. Art criticism – comparing and evaluating art objects focusing on responses to them rather the objects themselves. And, philosophy of art – questioning and theorising ‘what is art?’ and ‘why it is important?’. Learning aesthetics is exciting for children and appeals to their inquisitive nature.
Discovering the language of art and how to interpret it, young people begin to think creatively, connecting and applying knowledge to new situations. And as they do so, they develop into aesthetically mature and creative adults capable to bring change and innovation to transform the future.