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On art, education and spices

Anyla Berisha and Stefanie Fridrik

In the world of cultural institutions, art education is considered a necessity, a service to provide visitors with valuable information on what they are about to see, to listen to, and maybe to study. In exhibitions, it usually comes in the form of guided tours, audio guides, and facts, descriptions, definitions and background information written on the walls and in brochures. As a visitor, there you can read and hear all kind of details on the artist's date and place of birth/death, family background, education, creative periods, artistic approach, sources of inspiration, main exhibition attendances and occasional awards. There you are being given a general overview about the artistic movements that apply to the exhibited works, about influential philosophical ideas, political events and social developments. There you learn about themes, technique, intention and meaning that are to be found in the specific artworks, maybe induldge yourself in some personal anecdotes about the creator of these pieces. Depending on the type of exhibition there might be an emphasis on the curatorial concept as well, if it is a group show also on the main topic underlying the selection of exhibits. All together, this gives you a pretty good idea of what is happening around you, and why it is happening.

This kind of background knowledge keeps well informed, and educates by giving an insight to the biographical facts and the artistic, theoretical and conceptual ideas of the people providing the content of an exhibition – the artists, curators and art historians. But we can't deny that this tailored set of data not only channels the visitor's perspective, but also goes hand in hand with the idea of high culture. The suggested supposition, that finding the “right” approach to art, “understanding” it, means to apply this knowledge, generates an elite of highly educated individuals on both, the providing and receiving, side of the art scene. A type of art education that supports the canonization and categorization of art, also favors the same development – which always implies an exclusion – on the part of the visitors.

So, as interesting as the educational aspect of art education can be, as rigid it can get sometimes. In the end, it puts the focus on the final object, this being either an artwork that is shown, or the exhibition which shows it. As the recipients, you are being served a ready platter that has been chosen for you without presenting the whole menu. No doubt, it is a tasty platter, made by skilled chefs and consisting of the necessary nutrition, but it is the same dish with the exact same ingredients for every guest who sits down and enjoys the meal. In order to adapt it to your own “taste” – meaning to rethink the construct built by information, the alleged enabling map that might prevent this “I don't get it”-moment we all know – you have to “add spices”. Because even if you know all about how a painter paints, a sculptor sculpts or a curator curates – how a chef prepares the dish, so to say – it does not necessarily mean that you can relate better to the creative process and its result. As we see it, art education needs to shift on the spectrum of people being involved in the creational process from the providers to the receivers, so that as a spectator, you get inspired to respond individually to it. One might say the artwork itself can be the source of inspiration but: wouldn't this make art education per se obsolete? Since we rather understand perception, in a sense the creation of an idea, as being an equal part of the process, we believe it also deserves to be inspired. We consider it the task of art education to find new ways for generating the needed impulses, one of these ways being the use of sound and music.

During the studies of music attention a number of mechanisms lead our attention toward a particular image or experience. This means when we recall a musical piece, first we remember the image associated with it. The interaction of visual and auditive impressions – how sound intertwines with other art forms – is a well-known and wide-spread phenomenon. We hear music in the most inconvenient situations and it has an impact on our perception. Other than text – spoken or written – sounds can create a certain setting by naturally triggering emotions, memories and associations and within that possess an universality, by means of speaking invariably to everyone as a universal language. It is this ability of sound that we consider the right tool to achieve “adding the spices” in art education, reinforcing and empowering the spectator's individual experience and self-exploration when approaching an artwork. Listening to sound and music while observing a visual artform gives impulses and inspiration to create individual narratives and associations. This way the visitor really engages not only with the object but with the process of interpreting itself what eventually might conclude the circle by building a bridge between the artist and the recipient.

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