When I started at OSU Professor Sherman pulled me aside one day and asked me what kind of secondary education I had in art prior to college. I told him "None". He smiled and said " I suspected as much." He said " It typically takes me two years or more for my graduate students to unlearn the crap that they were taught in elementary and secondary school."
Many think of education as an additive process only. However, there are numerous examples that all of us can think of where the first step in our education was to destroy previously learned bad habits and erroneous ways of viewing the world that would, if left in place, make it impossible to proceed forward. In science new evidence comes to light and an entire profession must reconsider long held beliefs and then proceed to root out old lines of thought that had been based on concepts now proven to be false.
We take for granted that this must be true for science, medicine, and engineering. But, within arts education, how is this concept of rooting out bad mental habits treated?
In the early 1960’s at OSU I can tell you that it was, at that time, standard practice. I think times have changed, however. There is a new attitude and I am struggling to identify the pedagogical roots. Within the arts the idea that education is an “additive” process dominates with some exceptions. For example, if you are a young musician attempting to compete at the highest levels of performance with the violin a rigorous deconstruction of preexisting habits is routine.
But for the visual artist there appears to be a different attitude. Teachers appear to consider the sum total of learned experience as sacrosanct. It is as if this accumulation of experience is what makes us unique. The teacher is reluctant to meddle with these layers of experience represented within each artist for fear that they could inadvertently destroy something important.
I put this before all of my friends as a hypothesis: the artist/student that is not afforded the opportunity to understand deeply the roots of his thought process, the way perception and emotion are hard wired, and the means to enhance his or her command over their instrument, their body/mind connection, is being denied one of the central benefits of education. Education must be about destroying ignorance as much as it is about adding new insights and information; that these twin processes go hand in hand.
Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living". I have my doubts about some of what Socrates has said but I do not doubt this observation.