A Commitment to Art

by Ralph Lelii, English department

When I attended the TED Conference in Vancouver last March, I was surprised by the number of presentations that involved art and design. It seemed as if every presentation drawn from science and engineering was interspersed with one that emphasized aesthetics, craft, and design. I have been watching the presentations again over the past few weeks so as not to lose them from my working memory, and this has made me aware once again of how powerfully art seems to impact our students.

 Last May, in my TOK classes, I asked my students how many thought of themselves as an “artist’ as opposed to a student taking an “art class.” Roughly, about 70 percent said they considered themselves an artist. When we discussed it, many of them explained that they felt their art training at GS was deeply meaningful, that it somehow gave them a sense that they could craft beauty on their own, exert some kind of authentic and autonomous control over their environment, and feel that they were making something that mattered deeply to them. Like sports I think, it seems to have a visceral connection to many of their lives, a real connection between heart and mind.

 A few weeks ago, a group of teachers from a small school visited GS to explore how we do the IB. When I told them how deeply woven the arts were in our particular manifestation of the Diploma Program, they seemed moved by the extent of our commitment to arts education, and by our implicit and explicit affirmation of its importance in a rigorous academic secondary school curriculum. I have heard this time and again when schools visit to explore the IB here at George School.

 I am wistful when I hear this. Back in the day, when I attended school, no art was offered in my elementary school. In high school, there was an incoherent smattering, but never was there an explicit recognition of its centrality in a progressive education, an acknowledgement that creation is at the heart of the human experience.

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It is a beautiful thing that we can offer this to our students. We are not the only ones to do so, surely, but we do it really well, and kids who return talk of it again and again when they reference their years here.

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