Tuesday, 15 March 2011
learning at 100
It's perhaps not surprising that someone who researched the idea of 'learning' for more than 15 years should chance to want to write about learning on what happens to be the hundredth posting on this blog. I've been fascinated by learning all of my life, perhaps because my schooling was a complete disaster and I left school at the first opportunity. I thus escaped without the dulling of my curiosity and capacities that institutions seemed in my experience to be so keen on.
I fell into teaching for strategic reasons (it gave me a job that would allow me to work abroad), and then found myself unexpectedly fascinated by the strangeness of adult education classrooms in the private sector. That might have been it, except that my choosing to become a student of Indian Religions in my early thirties suddenly exposed me to the experience of 'learning' in higher education. I loved the subject, but the experience of institutional learning was so bizarre that I ended up making such learning my study for the next fifteen years. I'm not, you'll be relieved to know, going to say any more about that here. Except to say that in my view 'learning' as talked about in institutions is not at all the same thing as the vibrant, exploratory, free, breathtaking kind of thing it can be outside of them...
For my new hero Fred Gettings, learning is actually one of the purposes of artistic activity.
In the business of learning about art there are many stumbling blocks and many difficulties, but perhaps the most insidious is one that is common to great artists and beginners alike. It is the tendency to paint or sculpt in order to produce a work of art rather than to learn from the actual attempt to create. Too often one sees an artist, who, after sincere struggle, finally gains recognition suddenly coming to a standstill in his development. His work which was formerly the culmination of a struggle, degenerates into a series of cliches, losing its vitality and becoming fit for nothing but buying and selling. If one has no inclination to learn about art there is little point painting or sculpting. If, however, one wishes to paint or sculpt one must first learn how: one is, therefore, a perpetual student, every attempt to produce a work of art being an attempt to learn something new, and not merely to have something to show (8).
...Our aim in learning about art cannot merely be 'to learn about art'. In an age which takes art - both good and bad - so ridiculously seriously, it is almost heretical to say that the chief aim of art should be enjoyment. Enthusiasm and joy can shine through even a bad painting... A spontaneous joy illuminates every child's painting, and is rooted in every work of genius... So many paintings by established painters which are exhibited nowadays are lacking in the spirit of joy because they have been painted for an audience with one eye on the art dealer and the other on accepted canons of taste. The actual fact of painting, the mystery of participating in an age-old activity, is too often submerged beneath irrelevant considerations (10).