Thursday, November 15, 2007

Art, Science and Aesthetic Realism

For the last six years my colleague Donita Ellison and I have given presentations on the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method and how it relates the beauty in art and science. The basis is this great principle by Eli Siegel, "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." We have had a wonderful time showing how the beauty to be found in the natural world has the same source as the beauty to be found in art--the opposites!

Since we both taught at LaGuardia High School of the Arts, it wasn't uncommon for my science students to have basic printmaking or ceramics with Donita Ellison. Early in the day they might learn how the rapid mitotic cell divisions in embryonic development are a stunning relation of the opposites of sameness and change. The full complement of chromosomes containing DNA needed for all life functions are present in a single cell at the moment of fertilization. This information is passed on through these divisions, to every one of the 60 trillion cells that ultimately make up a human being. When a cell divides in a person of 80, it has in its nucleus the information that was present at the moment of conception! Students are thrilled by this.

These same opposites--sameness and change--are also present in the art of molding clay. An artist begins with a single, amorphous lump of clay that is given shape and meaning through his or her work. Within the end product is the early lump of clay, changed through kneading and molding and baking! Mr. Siegel has defined art as "willed beauty."

These opposites, so beautifully one in the world and in art, are present in the ordinary, every day turbulent lives. Students, for example, can feel the world is boring and things are too much the same and so they can look for excitement in ways that are sometimes dangerous. They can also feel the world changes on them suddenly and certainly can't be depended upon. Parents might go through a divorce and make for changes in the lives of their children that are unexpected and painful. Children can suddenly be displaced by a fire or a death in the family making the world feel unfriendly and not to be trusted. Teachers can also feel their lives have too much sameness and routine and yearn to see the world and people, including those close to them, with new freshness!

Meanwhile, as difficult and heart-wrenching as these situations are, students can learn through the subjects they study that the same world that can confuse them also has a structure of opposites--a beautiful relation of sameness AND change that is permanent! The world may not be run right or managed fairly, but it is made well! Donita Ellison and I have had the pleasure of showing this great fact to students in our classes and to teachers in the many presentations we have given together over the years. I look forward to giving many more!

You can visit the Terrain Gallery's website to find out more about the Siegel Theory of Opposites in relation to art. I am also a member of The Art and Science Collaboration, Inc. whose rich website is worth a visit.