Today we think of art as something that will go into a museum or decorate a space. However, art was once a trade. Michelangelo was part of a sculpting guild & apprenticed under a master in the same way that masons pass on their knowledge of building & stone work to upcoming generations- both in ancient times and today. Artisans who formed these guilds & did the work of both building & beautifying their communities were highly revered specialists who performed extremely important work.
Today, when we think of an artist, the word “starving” is usually the first to come to mind. We do not value art or an arts education as we once did, much less folk art like quilting. Fine art is separated from craft & trade, devaluing folk art, craft & trade further. All are pushed to the sidelines of “core curriculum.” This is evidenced by the budget cuts to arts & trades education categories. They do not get the same funding that scientific programs garner because we do not see their application in society as readily. In our current culture, you’ll never hear a teacher say, “If you don’t learn how to draw or take things apart & make something new out of them, you won’t have a good future.” They say, “If you don’t study for this test & keep your grades up, you won’t get into college & you’ll struggle for the rest of your life.” We need a wholesale change in our education system to include applied arts that balances the heavy usage of technology with the practical everyday folk art, trade & skills of our ancestors.
Applied Art™ can influence not only its own field of craftsmen/women & fine artists, but can also enhance other subjects as well.
Art, Trade & Craftsmanship is scientific exploration. In order to learn how to draw, you first have to discover what the different materials do. Why does this pencil draw darker lines than another? Which one is harder to erase? Why? How do you draw with something other than lines? (Shading creates contour & depth- the perception of a 3D image.) In order to learn how to quilt, you have to know which fabrics with stretch & in what ways, how one color & pattern choice will affect another in the overall design of the quilt, the numerous ways that the fabrics can be joined together & the pros & cons of each method, etc. A good artist knows how to expertly manipulate the materials he/she is using. Practice in these fields lends itself easily to manufacturing. How does this material work? How far can I bend or manipulate it? What can I combine it with to create something that will solve a problem? How can I look at raw materials & imagine different uses for them? (Creativity & imagination!)
Art is also problem solving. When you have an idea of what you want to create, you both mentally & physically take it apart. You look at all of its components & figure out how they compare to one another. Nothing comes out perfectly the first time you draw it on a page, play it on an instrument, or weld it into place. An artist/craftsman/woman is continually looking for what part of their project is “different” from what they want. These pieces aren’t matching up the way they’re supposed to. One piece is longer than another. There’s puckering of the fabric where the thread bunched up. This fabric gets eaten easily by the sewing machine. Why? And how do I fix it?
As you move through the project you make changes until it becomes what you want. This is a constant problem-solving process from start to finish & produces patience, persistence, critical thinking & creativity.
Art is a way to learn other things. Indeed, it is often referred to as a language. We study language by itself, but we also use language to study other subjects. One pursuit does not detract from the other. In like manner, applied art™ which includes both art, craft & trade applications could be brought into the regular classroom & used to explore other subjects. It would be ideal for each school to have one or more arts & trades counselors who could work with the regular classroom teachers to create projects that allow the students to use creative reasoning & include hands-on experiences as they explore all of the other subjects. Indeed, Applied Art™ could be the solution to the Skills Gap.
APPLIED ART™ IN HISTORY:
There is historical precedent that tells us that this type of approach would not only bridge the skills gap but enhance “core” curriculum. During WWI there was a movement to “Knit Your Bit” for the soldiers. Not only women, but men left behind & children were called on to knit socks, scarves, hats & mittens for the soldiers. It was a patriotic duty that compelled some to knit in church & eventually in school. An amazing thing happened. Teachers everywhere noted betterbehavior in class AND improved testing. Today we know that the patterning & mathematical elements of this craft are highly important in a number of fields. As a result of this understanding, Waldorf Schools worldwide teach both knitting & crochet to improve reading, writing & mathematical scores beginning as early as kindergarten. The only question that remains is, “Why hasn’t the world followed?”
No Idle Hands : The Social History of American Knitting
TEACHING KIDS TO CROCHET AND KNIT: WHY WALDORF SCHOOLS INCORPORATE CRAFTING INTO THEIR CURRICULUM
©Christy Grace Collins, 2018. All Rights Reserved.