Navigating a Space for Possibilities in the Art-Science Gap

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Navigating a space for possibilities in the Art-Science Gap

By Adair Hinds

I went to school to study engineering and fell in love with art. So I studied psychology and became a teacher. Sounds like the convoluted answer to a common core math problem.

I have lived most of my professional life in the middle of the art-science gap. As an art teacher and art therapist early in my career, I was drawn to the science of creativity. And now, as a school administrator, I am drawn to the art of leadership and school culture.

I have never liked labels. In some respects, when you accept a label you surrender your capacity for growth. So I chose to be an artist who studied science and now a scientist who practices art. The older I get, the more aware I am of the strong disconnect between art and science in our schools today.

Testing and the art-science gap

The strong Western influence of dualism, plagued by either-or thinking, separates the cognitive from the affective and science from art, leading to a disconnect between theory and practice.

The historically elitist tendencies of the art world toward reification of the art-science gap further marginalized art into the affective domain and therefore into obscurity in the high stakes testing environment of many schools today.

If we follow the path of interdisciplinary thinking through the art-science gap, that space between self and other, education and society, we begin to see that the arts are not merely the frosting on the cake of science.

Jerome Bruner defined two forms of knowledge -paradigmatic and narrative. Art is a form of inquiry that predates language and has been the predominant vehicle for depicting narrative knowledge for centuries. Bruner argued that the intent of the cognitive revolution in the 1950’s was to bring meaning back into the equation after the failed attempts of behaviorism to identify transcendent, universal norms.

Instead of a focus on meaning, the proximity of the cognitive revolution to the birth of the technological age led us to the limited view of the mind as information processor that is still prevalent in schools today.

This view of cognition limits the educational potential of various forms of knowledge construction.

If you stop and think for a minute about what we have heard over the last couple of decades from the MFA is the new MBA to design thinking, there is a call to action. This emphasis on 21st century skills did not grow out of an academic vacuum, they are real needs proposed by real people in the workforce.

Benefits of the arts and creativity

Creativity can be essential to the capacity to draw inferences, make connections, and solve problems. There are 5 stages in the pursuit of artistic meaning that are drawn from creativity research:

  1. Engagement – formation of an idea
  2. Cultivation – heightened problem-solving
  3. Incubation – decrease in goal-oriented activity
  4. Frustration – work ceases, denial of original concept
  5. Illumination – Period of growth where boundaries are stretched.

The pursuit of artistic meaning requires cognitive skills that are not being taught in core academic classes today. While teachers may have time to allow students to generate their own ideas and engage in authentic problem-solving during the engagement and cultivation stages, there is no time for incubation and frustration, which I believe doesn’t allow students to reach illumination where they achieve true growth.

The only frustration that we seem to allow is the frustration that comes from assigning additional practice and rote memorization for homework.

If we want students to develop 21st century skills, believe design thinking is important, and buy into the need for kids to develop grit, we need to allow students to think like artists. We need to allow them to learn from their mistakes and push through their own frustration.

The problem is, too often we try to control all of the conditions that will lead to a pre-defined outcome.

Regardless of whether you read Pink’s A Whole New Mind, Garnder’s Five Minds for the Future, or Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap, what connects all of these ideas is that we need to get kids thinking like artists as much as we get them thinking like scientists.

It is not because we need artists to make the world a more beautiful place – it is because we need artistic thinking so that our future scientists learn to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and to understand the possibilities in the impossible.

Yes, Einstein had it right – imagination is more important than knowledge. Yet we continue to load kids up with homework to memorize more facts they will forget. We spend more and more time developing standardized measures of achievement that promote conformity. This manufacturing model needs to stop.

We need more children who can think like artists and we need to create more conditions in schools that allow students to move through the stages of creativity. To make that happen we need to change our paradigm and give up some things like traditional homework to make space for possibilities.

Increased exposure to creativity for children in schools may facilitate a healthy tension between scientific and narrative knowledge construction, lead to the development of authentic self, and promote transfer to other subjects and thinking in everyday life.

Adair Hinds is the head of school at Oakbrook Prep, an independent K-12 school in upstate South Carolina. He is an art teacher turned administrator who is passionate about creativity and lectures around the country on art, psychology, and education. He blogs at Brilliantly Made and  tweets @AdairHinds.

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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