We’ve all be been there – someone has, at one time or another, questioned the validity of our creative work based on a subjective notion of beauty. And, after years of critics assuring us what art, creative writing, dance or theatre should look like, many of us have fallen prey to such short-sightedness. Even worse, it can be tempting to pass these false ideals onto students. It becomes all too easy for adults and children alike to falsely measure their progress in terms of beauty or so-called realism.
The good news, however, is that this pattern is easy to break. One must merely look at Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse to realize that the story of a person goes far beyond attractive symmetry. Symbols, colors and exaggerations can inform and instruct. They can provoke questions and prompt insights. e.e. cummings famously wrote “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” And this philosophy is evident in his poems. In breaking away from conventional form, his words dance and bleed into each other, positively transporting the reader into a richer, more vibrant realm. Similarly, by abandoning the confines of point shoes and traditional choreography, Isadora Duncan ushered in a new age of dance.
When adults value ideas over aesthetics, children become free to abandon archaic notions such as “perfection” in art. Whether students are creating poetry, poster boards, artist’s books or assemblages, substance should always reign over form. Project development should continuously be evaluated on the strength and development of ideas. This does not mean, of course, that work should be done carelessly or without regard for how it looks. It simply means that beauty does not necessarily equate higher learning.
The power of letting go of superficial ideals and constructs invites critical thinking, creativity and intuition to take charge. Who knows what visionaries sit in our classrooms?