The love of beauty may express itself in a song, in a smile, or in silence; but most of us have no inclination to be silent. We have not the time to observe the birds, the passing clouds, because we are too busy with our pursuits and pleasures. When there is no beauty in our hearts, how can we help the children to be alert and sensitive?
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.
Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
An egret was flying overhead, neck outstretched, body perfectly streamlined, wings white against the grey sky. Below was a group of people, out on a walk. One person looked up and observed the bird …
There was an opportunity to immerse oneself in art and collectively inquire into the nature of art education, the role of art educators and the fundamental role of aesthetics in our lives in a gathering of art educators from the various KFI schools1.
In a society obsessed with material success, schools emphasize the conventional academic subjects while art, if at all it is included in the school's activities, becomes 'extracurricular'. This is just one instance of the fragmentation that happens in our lives. Yet art is an integral part of education, and nurturing an aesthetic sensibility is fundamental for the right kind of education, an education that leads to an 'integrated understanding of life' as Krishnamurti saw so clearly. KFI schools have been consciously located amidst nature, and the beauty of the surroundings seeps into one's consciousness, thus developing an aesthetic awareness; there is also a direct involvement with art, which is a central part of the curriculum.
Yet, how does one teach art? Should there be an art 'curriculum' with structured lesson plans? How important is the teaching of technique? How does one balance the roles of being an artist as well as an art educator without sacrificing one for the other? These were some of the strands of thought related to the pedagogical aspects of art as discussed by the participants.
Art, or rather the creative process itself, can be viewed as the intertwining of two apparently diverse but complementary components. One consists of measurable dimensions like form, line, colour, material and texture. On the other hand are qualities that fall in the immeasurable domain, like aesthetics, rhythm, sensitivity, beauty and harmony2. The creative process has to go through the discipline of form and technique, but beauty comes in transcending the given structures and touching something intangible. Herein lies the role of an educator, who has to provide some amount of technical guidance for the student to get started and then step back and let the creative process unfold. It is not the art educator who 'teaches' creativity to a child; the art educator only provides the conditions in which creativity can emerge unhampered. This includes alerting the child to learn from the material, to learn from the beauty around us, to be open to one's inner rhythm, and to flow with one's creative impulses unhindered by judgements, comparisons or conditioning about what something should look like.
For such a sensitive nurturing of creativity, it helps that the educator designs activities with certain pedagogical objectives in mind; however, these should not limit any exploration into the unknown from where true creative insight arises. And in such a journey of exploration, the art educator also has to be an artist: a creative individual who is ready to take the plunge from the known to the unknown, who undertakes a serious inquiry to creatively understand the world. If one continuously engages with this psychologically, then the children also learn from that. Thus it is not the activities that become important, but rather the quality of interaction between the teacher and the student. The teacher is attentive to the processes taking place while the student is at work, as well as to the quality of being of the teacher herself as an artist, instead of just highlighting outcomes.
It is useful to distinguish between commercialized art—'art' that is produced by the 'artist' and consumed by the 'spectator' or, to put it differently, art that has no relationship to life—and an entirely different timbre of art that arises from a sensitive awareness of oneself in the world. Such art is not disconnected to life processes, as it is a way of life for the artist. The artist has a meditative relationship with the world; the creative process unfolds from silent observation of the world. As Krishnamurti wrote, it is from an empty mind, a mind free of chatter (in other words, a silent mind), that creativity is born. Creativity is where the self is not, since an alertness and sensitivity to the world around us can happen only when we are not caught up in self-centred pleasures or worries.
While exploring the world of colours and expressing oneself on canvas or paper, one has to develop the quality of being with oneself; one has to learn to listen to one's inner rhythm, a listening that arises in silence. The gap between the canvas and life is bridged when the artist learns the art of seeing and listening to the world within and without. In this striving, one's engagement in art becomes a quest and a selfmotivated journey and not a mere 'subject' that has to be mastered. For someone who is willing to seriously engage in this process, the beauty of nature, and the silence and leisure in schools like ours allow for an intuitive learning. This learning happens in stillness, in exploring the rich vocabulary of colours, textures and pattern in nature. The uncluttered, silent mind, a mind that is not preoccupied with itself, is able to observe a simple object like a leaf, feel its texture, and thus see the leaf in its totality. The art that unfolds from an inner silence is not imitative or second hand; instead, it is imaginative and original, as each one finds out for oneself a way of creatively being in the world. There is a joy in experiencing things first-hand, in entering into a dialogue with the material, in directly perceiving the world and learning intuitively.
In the gathering of the art educators, another major theme that was explored was the role of craft in the art curriculum. In a place like The Valley School, while art classes are integral to nurturing creativity and insight in a child, craft—with its functional aspect—is a regular and equally important part of the school's activities. Weaving, carpentry, embroidery, papermaking and pottery are just some of the areas explored in the KFI schools as a part of the curriculum. The child is encouraged to become sensitive to the aesthetics in a simple clay pot, in the weave of a cloth, in the twists of a cane, or even in something as mundane as a broom.
Let me linger a little on this particular object: the broom. If we ever take the time to really look at the much used but overlooked broom and wonder about the story behind it, we will find a whole world of specialized activity opening up. We will discover that a broom is made from locally available materials, which can be coconut leaves or reeds or grasses. Different parts of India have different kinds of brooms, with distinct textures and designs, determined by the materials used in making them. A broom can thus tell us the story of the place it is from if we care to listen deeply enough; it can even give us an insight into the person whose hands and patience crafted that broom, if we are sensitive to it. The making of a simple broom can teach us respect for material and for labour and, thus, also respect for life3.
In a space where nature, art and craft come together in creative harmony, the experimentation with material, especially non-conventional material (that is not manufactured and store-bought) can take on a life of its own. Objects lying around— grass, newspaper, wood shavings, sand, sticks or leaves, with their wide-ranging textures—can allow for varied creative expression. Conventional or readymade material hampers the development of sensitivity; its use leads to dependence and passivity4. In a society dominated by images and simulacra, sensitizing children about material and allowing them to explore a rich array of media can help them move away from a second-hand experiencing of life to something that is closer to what Krishnamurti envisioned.
Whether we are working with bamboo or some other kind of wood, as we work, we learn to be sensitive to the material itself, allowing the material to shape the emerging form. As anyone who has worked with her hands to create something knows, we cannot impose our will on the material to carve or mould it into any preconceived form. Thus ego takes a back seat and what emerges is something unthought of, something truly new, something original. The self is humbled. For an art educator, the insight is to provide the material and an environment that encourages creativity without any expectation, fear or pressure. In patiently sanding what seems like a random piece of wood one suddenly discovers a beautiful wooden spoon, or in playing with some clay on a wheel an unexpected and unusual form materializes. This is the moment of creation, impersonal and un-authored.
The bird was flying overhead. Someone looked at it in unhurried silence. A form emerged in clay: the expression of an artist. Artisans— traditional potters—looked at that form and were touched by it. The discipline of the artisans and the inspiration of the artist-teachers led to the creation of an eight-foot sculpture of a bird with its neck outstretched5. The curves of the clay displayed the skill of the artisans and made visible the spirit of the bird in all its grace, strength and beauty, allowing us to feel its vital life force.
- The Valley School, Bangalore, hosted a unique workshop in December 2011. Art educators from the KFI schools as well as seven other educational institutions came together to discuss their vision and concerns through small group discussions and dialogues. Teachers reflected on their individual journeys as artists; there were slide shows of their work and also of representative art work done by schoolchildren. The workshop provided a space for artists as well as artisans to work together and explore the different facets of art. For instance, village potters and pottery teachers collaborated to make an 8ft sculpture of a bird. Nature walks, music recitals and dance performances added to the creative energies of the gathering.
- Sukant Misra, invited resource person and keynote speaker, emphasized the two strands—the measurable and the immeasurable—that arise in the creative process. He envisages art as a way of life or a personal religion of an artist.
- Vishakha Chanchani, one of the invited speakers at the workshop, discussed the role of craft in education and argued that instead of delineating craft as an exotic but somewhat marginal and isolated subject, we need to make it central to the educational process. She makes dolls with miniature brooms to draw our attention to this everyday object.
- Tarit Bhattacharya, one of the invited speakers at the workshop, beautifully illustrated the relationship between originality, creativity and sensitivity on the one hand and media obsession, imitation and outward orientation on the other hand. He initiated the making of a large mural, where all the workshop participants enjoyed working together and used clay, cow dung and straw. This huge piece of work, which appeared to be chaotic initially, soon found its order and rhythm.
- In addition to creating the sculpture, the teachers (Bhanudas from Sahyadri School, Chandan and Hanumanthappa from Valley School, Satya from Rajghat Besant School and Nandakumar from Rishi Valley) experimented with Raku firing and produced several pieces of Raku ware.