Lighted Windows: The High School Humanities Course

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  • National Art Education Association

    Lighted Windows: The High School Humanities CourseAuthor(s): Beverly Jeanne DavisSource: Art Education, Vol. 18, No. 8 (Nov., 1965), pp. 3-4Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3190740 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 03:22

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  • to be gained from studying meaning as it is ex- pressed in music, in literature, and in the visual arts. There is knowledge worth discovering in comparing the color of painting to word sounds and rhythms of poetry and to the instrumental timbres of violin, oboe, and piano in music. Such a knowledge which reveals to the student the unique contribution of each discipline at man's command can be found only in the course which truly interrelates the varied fields of study.

    In considering all of the means of man's expres- sion, the student finds that form is at the heart of creation and that man's search for meaning is a search for order which he then funds into the crystallized order of a work of art, the structure of philosophy, or the mathematical equation. "What the senses discern most readily are concrete wholes," wrote Aristotle, foreseeing by more then twenty cen- turies what the gestalt psychologists have found- that perception is an ordering process by which the mind seeks the wholeness of things. Just as the scien- tist expresses the order he finds in the universe through the order of a formula, so a fugue by Bach moves us by its structure as each melody and each fragment of a melody unfolds and refolds again. We are moved by the inner logic felt at each instant of the music's reality in time. So, too, a seascape by Feininger reaches our consciousness by the organ- ized way in which the horizontal planes of grey and silver repeat one another in evocation of mist, sea, and sky balanced in an absolute harmony. One finds in such experience that inner consistency, con- trol, is the discipline of the arts. Without order, beauty is marred and meaning is torn.

    The humanities lead one to appreciate the values of the past in relation to the present. Man's search through the centuries for beauty, truth, and value continues still today. The need for meaning, direc- tion, and beauty existed then and stirs us still, even though we may sometimes fail to be aware of our need. One discovers countless similarities across the ages. For example, the deep concern for space in science and in art today is but another phase of Renaissance man's concern for natural space which found its expression in the laws of perspective. One sees in the abstract space of Byzantine painting of the sixth century an intimation of the abstract space of painting today-both transcending man. One finds in the dissonance and the multi-rhythms of contemporary music but an extension of the pulsat- ing sounds of Gothic music which resounded through the cathedrals of thirteenth century Europe. These threads which cross and recross to form the tapestry of man's culture shine before us in countless images. The student of the humanities thus finds his vision enrichened as he seeks for meaning through the wisdom of the past. Each age adds its stones of value to the architecture of civilization. It is this which we receive; this is our richness. "We have our

    inheritance," wrote T. S. Eliot. And they are precious stones indeed.

    The humanities course must lead one to develop his sensibility as man, for it is human to feel, to perceive the subtle nuances of life. In the midst of the dynamism of living today, one's senses can be too easily dulled to the beauty which immerses one. The rain upon the pebbles at one's feet, the twilight upon a tree branch, the light of words which one cannot forget but which illuminate the darkness- these are riches which we wear about us for a cloak against the cold. In the practical world of getting and doing, we must not lose these values. One does not grasp beauty, or words, or courage, or any precious thing in one's hands to possess it. One finds such things as they pass, for they happen in time, illuminating something within us which we can never quite forget. Not to know how to know them-that is the tragedy, for then we have only emptiness. "Teach us to care," called Eliot through his poem Ash Wednesday. It is perhaps the highest gift of education to teach man to care.

    "It is the time which you give for your rose which makes it so precious," said St. Exupery. In the midst of the speed of contemporary civilization where there is so little chance to be alone to think, it is a great need of man to give time for his rose, to muse in the garden of a sonnet or a symphony, before a sculpture, or in the still secluded space of a painting, and to discover his direction once again, and to discover perhaps himself. To face awhile an expression of man's greatness, to com- mune with the truth it reveals, to sense the loveli- ness of sound or surface, words or shapes, to dis- cover the patina of meanings-in such moments one faces beauty, value, and truth. One may dis- cover then the fullness of life and remember his own potential. As a work of art is an expression of values, it casts a light upon the problem of values, or standards, reminding one of one's aim as man. We may remember what Aristotle said: "We ought, so far as we can to become immortal by making every effort to live in accordance with the best that is in us. ... And it would be strange surely if one were to prefer some other way of life to the life of his real self."

    ;'You are civilization," wrote St. Exupery, plac- ing upon each individual the duty to preserve his power to search and his will to fulfill his own highest potential. If the humanities course in the high school can teach the student to be moved before life in all of its richness, it will have accomplished a last- ing value. For one must first be moved to feel and to care, and to guard the light of truth and beauty. Then one may seek to move towards excellence himself so that he may add some richness of his own to intensify the glow. Beverly Jeanne Davis is an art teacher at Thomas Jeffer- son High School, Fairfax County, Virginia.

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    Article Contentsp.[3]p.4

    Issue Table of ContentsArt Education, Vol. 18, No. 8 (Nov., 1965), pp. 1-40Front Matter [pp.1-1]Guest Editorial [p.2]Lighted Windows: The High School Humanities Course [pp.3-4]The Allied Arts Course: New Solution to a Growing Problem [pp.5-7]John Dewey: His Aesthetics Considered as a Contemporary Theory in Teaching the Humanities [pp.8-12]12 Years of Collecting [pp.13-15]The Humanities [pp.16-20]News [p.21]Peace Corps Helps Give New Life to Old Arts [pp.22-23]20th Century Sculpture [pp.25-27]Book Reviewsuntitled [p.29]untitled [p.29]

    Book Listings [pp.29-31]Museum Briefs [p.30]News of the Profession [pp.32-39]Regional News [pp.35-39]Back Matter [pp.24-40]

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