"An option for art but not an option for life": Beauty as an educational imperative

Journal of Aesthetic Education 42 (3):pp. 71-87 (2008)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:"An Option for Art But Not an Option for Life":Beauty as an Educational ImperativeJoe Winston (bio)IntroductionIn a recent meeting of the academic staff in the university department where I work, we were asked to state our current research interests. Responses progressed around the circle and everyone listened quietly and respectfully until I stated that my interest was beauty, to which there was general laughter—complicit, not derisory, as if everyone laughing presumed it was a joke. In the same week, I heard a story from a colleague who works in another institution. She had been interviewing a prospective female candidate for their postgraduate teacher training course with a deputy principal from a local school. When it came to a decision, the latter had not been in favor of offering the young woman a place; she was "too beautiful," she thought, to the extent that she would "be a distraction" in the classroom.I offer these stories as illustrative of a fact little discussed—that beauty is a problem in educational discourse, seen as either wildly irrelevant or discordant with the job of teaching. Yet it was not always the case. Beauty has in the past been understood as one of the highest aims of education. For Schiller, it fulfilled a core human need, and he wrote in the second of his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man that "it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom."1 Matthew Arnold argued that it was in beauty that the "human race finds its ideal."2 Emerson saw beauty as "the form under which the intellect likes to study the world,"3 and Iris Murdoch argued that it should be at the base of any education in the virtues, citing Plato's argument that beauty is the one spiritual quality that we love by instinct.4 These figures could hardly be described as philosophical lightweights, yet their sentiments and the complex arguments through which they expressed [End Page 71] them have for years been neglected; only recently has this begun to change. Elaine Scarry, in particular, has written an influential book on the topic, taking up the argument of Iris Murdoch and developing a strong case for the educational power of beauty, allying it strikingly with an education in social justice.5 Two recent articles in this journal have also heralded a re-evaluation of beauty as a concept of profound significance for both the arts and education. Stuart Richmond sees in the development of our capacities to create and appreciate beauty "a way to bring us back into contact with what is sensual and intrinsically worthwhile,"6 and Howard Cannatella argues passionately "that something of the indelible quality of poiesis and delight in beauty should be the focus of specific educational concern, a factor at its core."7This article is an attempt to add further substance to the claim that-beauty should be one of our core educational values. In doing so, it develops the ideas that connect these perspectives: that beauty's power is instinctive, that it delights, that it is of deep human value. As do Murdoch and Scarry in their different ways, I will argue that beauty is powerfully formative and intrinsically associated with virtue, an idea developed in the final section of the article. First, however, I wish to consider what happened to beauty and why it became a neglected concept not only in education but also in the arts.What Happened to Beauty?Language and world refer to each other and presuppose each other for their mutual intelligibility. In this count, human learning becomes the process of aligning language and world.8In considering beauty, we begin inevitably with the word itself and with its usage. Like all evaluative concepts captured through language, beauty is a historical and cultural entity and, as such, it has both gathered and discarded meanings with the passage of time. Consequently, its nature is elusive and open to revision and debate. Is it characterized by perfect harmony and balance, as the classical world would have it, or by the soaring solidity of a medieval Gothic cathedral? Do we associate it with goodness...



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Beauty in the context of particular lives.Pauliina Rautio - 2010 - Journal of Aesthetic Education 44 (4):38-59.

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