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Perfect Public and Creativity: An Inevitable Conflict in Teaching?

ABSTRACT: The manner and style in which art is interpreted in contemporary times is, without a doubt, an ambiguous yet controversial matter for thinkers across a wide variety of schools of thought. Art has evolved hermeneutics from a science that solely viewed art interpretation the domain of the artist him or herself to a view that, for art to be understood and appreciated in its entirety, it must have contact with the social and cultural environment where it originates. In conjunction, the contemporary view holds that the audience (or the spectators, as some say) must maintain some involvement in the process of art creation, if not the creator himself (Ermath, 1981).

The purpose of this paper is to examine and the effectiveness of the attempts to transmit art teaching methodology to achieve ‘perfect public’. The structure of this paper is in three parts. As a prepatory exercise, I first begin by outlining how the creative process in the twentieth century has involved the public and the notion of the ‘perfect public. Second, I examined the various methods of teaching art, and the effectiveness of such methods. And third, I apply the case study method to examine the approaches of two artists in their teaching methods in achieving ‘perfect public’. What shall be clear from this paper is that contemporary artists do make use of participative art to engage the audience and, in doing so, the audience become author. In assessing the discourse on ‘perfect public’ and modern teaching methods, I shall attempt to penetrate this folklore to reach an understanding that an important questions remains as to ‘perfect public’ can be achieved while still maintaining independent artistic thought.

Part 1: Background: The Public and Art

By way of background, it is essential to note that two-way relationship between artists and the public has become more prevalent after the twentieth century.[1] Michael Ermath described the notion of ‘perfect public’ as being on where an artist can be trained by the artist either directly or indirectly and hence making the audience the co-artist.[2] The notion of ‘perfect public’ is drawn from Umberto Eco’s literary criticism in which he stated, put simply, that art needs the active participation of its audience, via transmission of knowledge and messages.[3] Most importantly, it was argued by Eco that participants can only become part of the creative process when their influence is not qualified in any way.[4] Interestingly, and in contrast to modern thought, Friderich Schleiermacher opined that genuine artistic appreciation was reached by understanding the literary, historical, and political context in which it originated.[5] Now, given that the background is now complete and given that teaching ‘active participation’ is almost paradoxical, it is necessary to examine if a dilemma exists in teaching art in the domain of education.

Part 2: Teaching Art: A Necessary Dilemma?

The perplexing issue as to whether art can be taught in a formalised setting has been one of great debate. Most prominently, James Etkins explores this matter in his 2001 book Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students.[6] Etkins pay attention to the realities of teaching art, by focusing primarily on American universities, colleges, and art schools. Etkins opines that teaching art is unable to be further refined or improved by any attempts to rationalize the arts-education system because, for the important reason, that art cannot be rationalised. He has three basic conclusions: (1) that idea of teaching art is unequivocally irrational; (2) the task of teaching art is confused because we act if we are doing something more than utilising any teaching technique; and (3) any programmatic changes are futile because of the way art is taught: ‘There is no way to know if it is a good idea to understand something that works by not being understood. … It does not make sense to try to understand how art is taught.”[7]; ‘if it were possible to produce a full account of how art is taught it might be a boring, irrelevant, pernicious document, something that should be locked away’. To start his argument, he commences with a history of art instruction. Put concisely, he puts forward the argument that the four models (discussed later) of teaching (the Romantic Model, the Bauhaus Model, the French Model, and the Post-war Art Method) that may be in need of further refinement by educational authorities.[8] He is primarily concerned with a solution to teaching art that does not impend upon the artistic process of creation. To further this, he states that the majority of modern art schools tend to combine the Four Models of teaching in their curriculums, which in his opinion is faulty and schools ought to focus on one Model.[9] Indeed, it is the contention of this paper that in achieving the ‘perfect public’ and ‘traditional method’ while maintaining creative independence is indeed difficult given the highly individualised and subjective nature of art. However, an area of confusion that needs clarification is that no teaching method or theory itself claims to teach “art” any more than learning to record the acceleration because of gravity with the Trolley of Fletcher example is Science. This overview of the various models of teaching now brings us to the question of how these teaching methods can achieve ‘perfect public’.

 

The post-war School of Art Method focuses on environmental and sustainable art practices. Elkrins’ argues that art schools combined both traditional and contemporary approaches to convey knowledge.[10] Eric Hosbawn and Terence Ranger argue that the traditional approach lacks flexibility and is far inflexible. In the traditional method, repetition is primarily focused on repetition to any matter that is not ‘compatible or even identical’ with what has been attempted before.[11] On the other hand, the Romantic and French Models have a systemic method to teaching, whereas the Bauhaus Models tend to be quite avant-garde. According to my understand, what is pivotal in maintaining a balance between ‘perfect public’ and traditional method’ is that it be noted that teaching art is far more than solely teaching techniques, art theory, or art histories. Instead, the pursuit of art involves the freedom to be creative. Indeed, in today’s contemporary and information-laden times it does appear that freedom and creativity exists in unlimited bounds. However, examining this prima facie freedoms allows us to see that there exist many manufactured collections of commodity and entertainment. There is a wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips in contemporary times. Why seek artistic individuality when Google has all the answers?

 

The traditional method of teaching art was established by the French academies and philosophies, creating pre-established indicators of determining success in artists. The Modern Method to teaching does not accept any precedent or set of rules at establishing ‘perfect public’ vicariously through the actions artists undertake for the audience to ascertain it’s artistic meaning.[12] Teaching creativity, in my opinion, is taking a step to create an environment where the student can grow in knowledge and wisdom. More precisely, an environment that is conducive to inducing the possibility of creating art. Art is not able to be taught as a ‘thing’, unlike, say, mathematics or computing. Art can only be taught by directing the creative imagination into growth.

 

To further elaborate the matter of whether an inherent conflict exists in teaching art and ‘perfect public’, we examine Claire Bishop’s argument as discussed in her book ‘Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and Politics of Spectatorship’,[13] the idea of participation is evaluated through numerous participatory art projects and she reaches the conclusion that art ought to be seen as offering an aesthetic and intellectual experience. However, this idea is not unqualified and she raises the risk of participants disregarding the artistic merit of a work.[14] Such participatory risks in balance ‘perfect public’ and the traditional method are evident in project Cult of the New Eve[15] where it was discovered that altering the audience’s perception of the art could be altered and manipulated through the use of The Cult. In doing so, The Cult attempted to mimic the authority of science on which universalism has been established.

 

That said, however, contemporary education theory hold the view that anything that the artist does for self-seeking purposes is, in fact, diminishes the end work and thus transmission of ‘perfect public.’[16] The process of creating art starts with the artist and then shifts between the artists and work in a manner that the act rather than the actual end-product demonstrates the value of the art.

 

Art Education: the matter of Artist and Audience

The Wide Open School illustrates art teaching education clearly. Olaf Nicolai and Simon Fujirawa take on a Modern Teaching Method; on the other hand, Xavier Le Roy is representative of the Traditional Based Teaching Method.

Le Roy’s educational background in developing dance choreographies into a ‘corporeal experience’[17] is commendable. Le Roy uses a traditional approach in demonstrating the artist’s perspective and social background, a ‘perfect public’ approach being deficient.

In the case of the German Artist Olaf Nicolai explored nature, consumerism and human anatomy, time and space in his art. His work commences on the assumptions on how we both observe and perceive everyday norms and activities. He then established artificial “augments consumer goods into gargantuan items, and works with distorted advertising art”[18]. From his approach it does appear that he sees Art as being an end in itself and to be used for political movements. Given this approach it appears that the balance between ‘perfect public’ and the traditional method is not given much credence. Nicolai transplants in his audience the notion of seeing reality through different filters and thus uses his audience’s surroundings as a ‘mental climbing strategy’[19]. His approach is arguably modern, by his focus on everyday surroundings. However, it appears that his work demonstrates a one-way flow of ideas to the audience, so in a sense they are only participating after the fact.

In striking contrast with Le Roy’s non-modern approach, there is no direct personal message transferred to the audience in a manner analogous to Beuy’s object based methodology. Bishop’s approach differs to Nicolai’s in that Bishop focuses upon the aesthetic value of the work. In a similar vein, the ‘perfect public’ search is elucidated in the individual’s unique participation and interpretation of the work. It is thus evident that Roy and Nicolai share a similarity in their methodology’s use in enticing creativity.

In the case of Simon Fujiwara, he illuminates family history and life by combing fact and falsity. In contrast to Nicolai, Fujiwara is the subject of his own work. Fujiwara prequalifies is audience by his classes ‘The School for Perfect Strangers’. It is clear that the ‘perfect public’ approach is being manipulated to an extent. The essence of his art is the undeniable marriage between the author and its audience: the two cannot be separated. However, in viewing his work throughout another filter it becomes clear that this is, in fact, a traditional, one-sided approach. The ‘perfect public’ approach is controlled by (1) what the author shares himself and (2) what the audience is willing to share with the author. Hence, his work is more to be appreciated on its artistic merit.

Conclusion


As demonstrated above, there is indeed a tendency and likelihood for modern day contemporary artists intentionally make use of the participative arts a form of enlightening and persuading the public. This ‘perfect public’ approach can be maintained and taught, regardless of the teaching methods employed. Limitations and artistic ceilings do exist in influence the audience. The participatory and open approach contributes to an open society in the unanswered quests for ‘perfect public’ equilibrium. A vital question remains as to how these social, communal, psychological, economic and class based limitations and qualifications will have any future impact upon the creative development of a singular, aesthetic act.

Numerous artists have given large portions of their time and skill to illustrate their ability as teachers. Their example in their own lives give us the ability to both see and hear that art is itself being taught.

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  • [1] Hofstadter, A., 1993. Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings. London, Routledge.
  • [2] Ermath M., 1981. The Transformation of Hermeneutics: Nineteenth-Century Ancients and Twentieth-Century Moderns. The Monist, 64, no. 1, 175-94.
  • [3] For a more precise definition, see: Eco, U, 1999. Philosophy, Semiotics and the Work of Fiction. Cambridge: Polity.
  • [4] Ibid, p 176-177.
  • [5] Ermath, 1981, op.cit, p.177.
  • [6] Elkins, M, 2001. Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students. Urbana: University of Illinois Press .
  • [7] Ibid.,p. 190.
  • [8] Ewans, J. 1962 Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, transl. Joseph W. Evans, New York: Scribners.
  • [9] Elkrins, J., 2008. Art Education is Radically Undertheorised. Interviewed by Cornelia Sollfrank, 17 May 2008, p.2.
  • [10] Ibid, p.5.
  • [11] Hobsbawn, E. and Ranger, T., 2000. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University.
  • [12] Daichendt, G.J., 2010. Artist-teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching. Intellect Books, pp.7-8.
  • [13] Bishop, C., 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and Politics of Spectatorship. Verso Books.
  • [14] Slater, J.B., 2012. The Ghosts of Participation Past. Metamute, Cambridge.
  • [15] Critical Art Ensemble, 2000. Performing a Cult. Critical Art Ensemble.
  • [16] Cochin, A, 1920. Les Sociétés de pensée, Correspondant.
  • [17] Wide Open School, 2012. Xavier Le Roy. [On line] Available at:http://wideopenschool.com/artist-classes-main/by%20class
  • [18] Nymphenburg, 2013. Olaf Nicolai. [on line] Available at:http://www.nymphenburg.com/en/artists-and designers/artists/olaf-nicolai/
  • [19] Ibid.
  •  

    Bibliography

    Bishop, C., 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and Politics of Spectatorship. Verso Books.

    Cochin, A, 1920. Les Sociétés de pensée, Correspondant.

    Critical Art Ensemble, 2000. Performing a Cult. Critical Art Ensemble.

    Daichendt, G.J., 2010. Artist-teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching. Intellect Books

    Eco, U, 1999. Philosophy, Semiotics and the Work of Fiction. Cambridge: Polity.

    Elkins, M, 2001. Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students. Urbana: University of Illinois Press .

    Elkrins, J., 2008. Art Education is Radically Undertheorised. Interviewed by Cornelia Sollfrank, 17 May 2008

    Ermath M., 1981. The Transformation of Hermeneutics: Nineteenth-Century Ancients and Twentieth-Century Moderns. The Monist, 64, no. 1, 175-94.

    Ewans, J. 1962 Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, transl. Joseph W. Evans, New York: Scribners.

    Harlan, V., 2004. What is Art?: Conversation with Joseph Beuys. Clairview Books

    Hobsbawn, E. and Ranger, T., 2000. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University.

    Hofstadter, A., 1993. Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings. London, Routledge.

    Nymphenburg, 2013. Olaf Nicolai. [on line] Available at: http://www.nymphenburg.com/en/artists-and designers/artists/olaf-nicolai/

    The Independent. In The Studio: Simon Fujiwara, artist

    Slater, J.B., 2012. The Ghosts of Participation Past. Metamute, Cambridge.

    Wide Open School, 2012. Xavier Le Roy. [On line] Available at: http://wideopenschool.com/artist-classes-main/by%20class

     


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