language / arts / 1

I told someone recently that I am an advocate for "integrative arts education," not realizing that those are really just buzzwords that have lost their meaning. At least for me.

For me, all education is integrative.  What we learn in "history class" is the same as what we learn in "science class" and "English literature," as if they could all be separated in the first place.  That's one of the big problems of education today: segmentation.  The idea that we should divide a teenager's day (and mind) into one hour each for reading critically, then following formulae, then experimenting curiously, is ridiculous.  When, on the job, have you ever said to someone, "I can't work on those numbers right now; I'm all done with math for the day"?

This is beside the point.  What I mean when I said "integrative arts education" is that art is just like science and history and literature and any other "subjects" you might be assigned in school.  Thinking about art is the same thing as thinking about all those others: inquisitive, curious, and broad thinking that encompasses many different parts of the world around us, so that when I say "Frank Lloyd Wright" you don't necessarily think Prairie Style.  You might say democracy, or Industrial Revolution, or idealism and individuality.

That is the heart of "integrative arts education," I think.  That it's not just the arts that are integrated.  It's true that studying music is the same thing (yes, the exact same thing, at least in my mind) as studying dance or poetry or design, but a truly "integrative" education encompasses everything it possibly can.  That's a lot of thinking, but that's what education is for, right?

I've been reading some of Wright's lectures and essays recently, including the famous "The Art and Craft of the Machine," delivered in 1901.  He includes this message:

[...] showing how in the middle ages all the intellectual forces of the people converged to one point -- architecture -- [Hugo] shows how, in the life of that time, whoever was born poet became an architect.  All other arts simply obeyed and placed themselves under the discipline of architecture.  They were the workmen of the great work.  The architect, the poet, the master, summed up in his person the sculpture that carved his facades, painting which illuminated his walls and windows, music which set his bells to pealing and breathed into his organs -- there was nothing which was not forced in order to make something of itself in that tome, to come and frame itself in the edifice.

Thus down to the time of Gutenberg architecture is the principal writing -- the universal writing of humanity.

Wright goes on to describe how printing de-localized ideas and artistic principles, thus separating other art forms from architecture, and from one another.  Thus "Sculpture becomes statuary, the image trade becomes painting, the canon becomes music."  And therefrom comes the Renascence, and the 16th century's particular flourish on the historical timeline of the West.

Wright has been depicted as something of an arrogant man, and he may have been in his personal life, but having read some of his works, it seems to me that he felt a very grand obligation to his artistic pursuits, and to individualistic expression through creation.  So since he expressed himself through architecture, he believes that all the arts lived for some time under the purview of architecture.  A singer might say that all communication and therefore all of civilization comes from the voice; a dancer may say that the voice is merely an expression of the body and thus dance takes ownership.

My point is that Wright is onto something here.  Regardless of what came first or which is "more important" (if any such things could be definitively decided), the arts are related.  They are all expressions of humanity -- a humanity which science seeks to understand, which literature seeks to beautify, which history seeks to document, which math seeks to quantify, which medicine seeks to nurture and perpetuate...  I could go on.  All these beautiful expressions of humanity, and we trick ourselves into believing they are different things.


Integrate.  You'll understand (and enjoy) things all the more.