Art is life and life is art

April 21, 2013    art learning

For the five-year-old, art is life and life is art. For the six-year-old, life is life and art is art. The first school-year is a watershed in the child’s history: a trauma. - R. Murray Schafer, introduction to “The Rhinoceros in the Classroom”

Schafer includes these words in a list of reminders to himself and other educators. He isn’t simply observing that five- and six-year-olds experience art differently; he is calling upon educators to preserve the five-year-old’s sensibility.

Elliot Eisner fleshes this idea out a bit more in The Arts and the Creation of Mind, in which he writes (page 4):

The arts have an important role to play in refining our sensory system and cultivating our imaginative abilities. Indeed, the arts provide a kind of permission to pursue qualitative experience in a particularly focused way and to engage in the constructive exploration of what the imaginative process may engender. In this sense, the arts, in all their manifestations, are close in attitude to play. Constraints on the imagination are loosened. In the arts, in the West at least, permission is provided to explore, indeed to surrender, to the impulsions the work sends to the maker, as well as those sent from the maker to the work. We see this perhaps most vividly when we watch preschoolers engaged in play. It is during this period that children take special pleasure in the sheer exploration of the sensory potential of the materials they use. It is at this time that their imaginative abilities, uninhibited by the constraints of culture, make it possible for them to convert a stick of wood into a plane they can fly, a sock into a doll they can cuddle, or an array of lines drawn so they stand for daddy. For young children the sensory world is a source of satisfaction, and imagination a source of exploratory delight. And it is these inclinations toward satisfaction and exploration that enlightened educators and parents wish to sustain rather than to have dry up under the relentless impact of “serious” academic schooling. A culture populated by a people whose imagination is impoverished has a static future. In such a culture there will be little change because there will be little sense of possibility.