Nurturing Aesthetic Awareness through the Arts

As one converses with students, teachers, and parents, it becomes clear that the aesthetic experiences gained through the arts yield important benefits.

Curriculum February 4, 2021

Robert teaches English to 7th graders. To stimulate creative writing, he has his students listen to a selection of instrumental music, sometimes taken from the Impressionist period. Robert explains how composers often endeavor to depict an event or a mood through music. While the students listen, he asks them to create a short story or a piece of poetry that has a “good fit” with the feel of the music. Robert notes that the quality of writing and level of creativity evidenced in the students’ work seems to be enhanced by their participation in the aesthetic experience.

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I clearly remember the first time I strapped on my diving gear and slid beneath the warm waters of a tropical reef. A new world opened before me—fish, coral, sea fans, and anemones in an exotic array of color, texture, and form! It was more remarkable because for thousands of years few, if any, human beings had been able to see their beauty. It was evident to me that God loves creating beauty.

The idea that beauty has a divine origin seems to have biblical support. Descriptions of Eden and of the New Jerusalem, each designed by God, incorporate aesthetic elements (Genesis 2:8-15; Revelation 21:1-22:5). The Bible writers, moreover, associate God with the concept of beauty. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11; also Psalm 27:4; 48:2; 50:2; Isaiah 4:2; 28:5; 61:1-3).

One key avenue through which students gain aesthetic awareness is through the arts. Notwithstanding, certain leaders in contemporary society, and even some educators, at times, have questioned the role of the arts in the academic program. Such critics typically regard the arts as frivolous and irrelevant to serious learning. Can a convincing argument be made for the inclusion of the arts in the curriculum? 

As one converses with students, teachers, and parents, it becomes clear that the aesthetic experiences gained through the arts yield important benefits. Students are encouraged to develop creativity, imagination, reflection, and self-expression. Through personal engagement with the arts, they observe with greater sensitivity, recapture lost spontaneity, and resist the tyranny of the technical. Breaking the constraints of routine, presupposition, and convention, they break out from the familiar—hearing new frequencies, perceiving new perspectives, finding new voices, and experiencing a sudden sense of new possibilities and new beginnings. 

The arts speak to the emotions, the intellect, and the spirit. They stimulate and enhance the learner’s inner life. Furthermore, given the multi-faceted nature of intelligence, focusing on aesthetics will help students whose gifts lie in the arts to develop their talents. 

In sum, the rationale for incorporating and elevating the arts in the curriculum is educationally sound and fits well with the Christian concepts of creative expression and a cultivation of the love of beauty.

Author

John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, is Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as teacher and educational administrator in North America, Latin America, and Asia, and in elementary, secondary, and higher education settings. He is a friend of young people and a colleague of teachers.

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