Sunday, January 13, 2008

Art Rant #1

Many of you know that I teach drawing and animation to kids. I've been doing this a few years now, and I'm finding that there is more demand for my services than I have time in the week. It's like watering a really, really dry houseplant.

Anyway, here is the first of my Art Rants. There's more where this came from. Feel free to forward it to anybody and everybody.

Art Rant #1

Look around you. Everything you can see is designed, from the products you use to the movies you watch to the buildings you work in to the parks you play in. All that stuff started out as a design that made the journey from imagination to reality. Even nature creates some of the most amazing, crazy and beautiful designs you could ever ask for.

Design is made using tools. There is architecture for buildings, modeling for automobiles, information design for websites. There are storyboards for movies and animations, schematics for machinery and electronics, mockups for toys, DNA for people.

This means that a child growing up today has enormous opportunities to imagine and shape the future of our world in ways big and small. Every industry, from filmmaking to product design to retail to airlines to hospitals and beyond needs design in order to function. But where does design come from?

Design comes from art, because art teaches us to visualize. Every design must be put in a form that can be seen, understood, and communicated by all sorts of people. Ideas must be tested to see if they will work. Leonardo da Vinci has a few examples.

Art teaches us how to take abstract ideas and put them out into the world. Art lets us see and solve spatial, compositional, creative, real-world problems. Art teaches us how to parse visual information, whether we created it or not. Art, in short, completes the human brain’s functionality.

Many people will say, “I’m just not good at art.” We don’t tell people they can’t use letters or words because they are not Mark Twain. We don’t tell people they can’t use numbers because they are not Stephen W. Hawking. We should not tell people that they can’t use pictures because they are not Pablo Picasso.

Is a design just a picture? Of course not. It can be a complicated mix of visuals, numbers and words that describe a bridge that won’t fall down, an aircraft carrier that will stay afloat, or a stage set that won’t squish the actors.

Can you imagine an airplane schematic written out in prose, or the specs for a piece of medical equipment expressed only in numbers? Of course not. But the designs for both of these things can mean the difference between life and death for everyday people.

So: The next time you hear someone say that we don’t “need” arts education, then point out that if we don’t need arts education, then we obviously don’t “need” houses, bridges, airplanes, cars, appliances, medical devices, movies, television, furniture, cell phones, clothing(!), or anything else you might see. Because by treating art as a nonessential, specialized skill rather than as a human way of thinking and communicating, we are making ourselves dumber by ignoring a tool we have used since prehistory and that shapes much of the world around us.

Thanks for reading. Betsy

Blog Archive