Aesthetic Education: The Teacher's Response to Genius

[This post is a draft of a five-minute talk I will give at the Arts Integration Institute, hosted by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Education Department, 15 July 2016.]

This quote by Eric Booth captures the essence of Aesthetic Education. Aesthetic is an adjective that means "concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty," and 'exploring masterworks' is the closest that any person can get to humanity's most beautiful expressions. Just this week, we have been moved by the transformation captured in Eric Kaiel's dance, "No Man is an Island," the heart-tugging lyricism of Theatergroup Kwatta's, "Love that Dog," and the world-shrinking fusion of Tiempo Libre's "Minuet in G (Guaguanco)."

In these masterworks our senses have been blasted by the virtuosity of these artists, and our minds have been inspired to share one full, aesthetic experience with students in the coming year.

But Booth's quote isn't just telling teachers to put their students in a room with 'masterworks.' This is about far more than merely watching a dance, attending a play, or playing a song from a CD. Look closer. It tells us how we are to teach the works of these great artists: "we borrow the eyes of genius."

Aesthetic Education understands that appreciating the beauty of a masterwork is about far more than coming up with ten questions about the work or assigning research tasks. Education is about borrowing the artist's eyes. It's about identifying one 'creative germ' that inspired the work and using that germ to infect our students with a passion for beauty not just in one assigned work of art but in artworks they will encounter after their experience with you.

Let me put it another way, using a quote from my favorite author, found in one of my favorite books.

Reading a 'fine thing' is aesthetic. Doing a 'fine thing' is education. What is aesthetic education? It is reading-then-doing, doing-then-dancing, viewing-then-creating. It is exploring. It is borrowing. It is genius transmitted from artist to teacher to student to world.

We teachers will be doing many 'fine things' when our teaching becomes infected with the creative germs of the many masterworks we will share with students next school year.