Appreciation And Expression
( Originally Published 1924 )
MAN 'S life would be beggared if appreciation were taken out of it. Each of us enjoys, often without realizing it, beauty in many manifestations. Nature is full of it, with its hills and streams, the blue of the ocean, the sky in its many phases. Music, pictures, sculpture, literature, the drama, are among man's contributions. But there is beauty in a fine piece of workmanship, in a polished piece of wood, in a smoothly running machine, in a thousand forms to which one or another of us responds.
The more widely one appreciates, the fuller his life becomes. When you look away over the hills, do you see simply hills and timber, or do the beautiful lights and shades and almost unseen colorings all combine to delight you? When you turn on the electric light, is it simply a convenience and nothing more, or does it bring a little thrill as you realize the skill with which man has changed the vibrations of electricity into those of light and has tamed them for his use? Do you enjoy not only music or painting but all the forms of beauty that surround you day by day, or do you go your way unseeing, overlooking the harmony in the sounds of the city, the beauty even in our utilitarian architecture, or in the colorful scenes of the street?
It is possible to make our children matter-of-fact, visionless, or to encourage the eager joy in beauty that is their birthright. But to make them see and enjoy is not a negative task. Beauty is often elusive. It dwells as much in the one feeling it as in the thing sensed.
I had always looked at the landscape; I thought I had seen it. Yet one day when I walked over the hills with an artist friend of trained vision, I learned new beauties, acquired a new feeling for colors I had never sensed before, took back with me a source of pleasure in nature that has grown with the years.
To be bored is an inescapable confession of shallowness : of a lack of understanding and appreciation. One should never show such an attitude to a child, or encourage in him a pride in such a condition. On the contrary, we should emphasize everything beautiful and fine, every achievement of God or man that calls for thankfulness and appreciation, and so add to the child's resources, broaden his contacts, help him into fuller harmony with the world in which he must live and work.
Expression is the contribution each of us makes when he puts himself, his efforts, his thoughts, his feelings, his imagination in some more or less concrete form. A man may express himself in a picture, a poem, a bit of carpenter work, even a skillfully dug ditch. One woman's baking of bread, her arrangement of a room, may for her be an expression of equal moment with another's novel or piece of sculpture. Those expressions that carry something of beauty or idealism from one to give pleasure and inspiration to others are, of course, the enduring ones.
There is in each one of us the urge for expression. That urge should be given means of realization. It need not be allowed to run wild, or to crowd all else out of place — unless perhaps it is the need of a great genius, who has so much to contribute in one line that he must of necessity subordinate all others to it. With most of us, various avenues of expression, one or more of which may lead toward actual skill, are the rule. Education should open these avenues.
In the older education, when music or drawing entered at all, it was taught as if each child were to become a great artist. Technic was emphasized to a degree that made many hate the subjects, and so often did more harm than good.
A great teacher of painting told me recently that in his lifetime of teaching he had produced surely one — possibly two, real artists. If this is a fair sample, and abundance of testimony confirms it, the arts should be taught in school for appreciation and expression rather than primarily for technical excellence. Children should hear good music, should learn to love it, should express themselves through it. They should see the best possible of the art of line, form, and color, and should have ample opportunity for self-expression in its various forms. Clay is not a fad in school work; it is one of the most valuable media ever found for young children. The pictures children draw, to illustrate the stories they read or the ones they imagine, are not valuable because they are pretty or seem to show cleverness, but because they provide an outlet that stimulates and gives definiteness to the child's thinking, imagination, and appreciation, and because they satisfy the desire for expression.
Simple technic, in so far as it means a better control of one's means of expression, a training of observation, and an ability to interpret, has an important plate, but it is not the dominant factor. Where individual promise of skill or other individual variations call for particular opportunity or particular training, it should, of course, be provided.
Dramatization is a comparatively new form of expression in schools. It bids fair to become one of the most important means of developing language-expression. From the little ones through all the ages of childhood — perhaps I might have omitted the last two words — playing a part is a supremely fascinating form of self-expression. Here, too, imagination takes form and becomes definite, and one's fancy opens the doors to experiences of many kinds. It is not the carefully drilled and possibly artificial production of one play that has the greatest value. It is the day-by-day experience of dropping into a part, imagining one's self under certain conditions and responding to them, that stimulates the imagination, that adds to the ability to put one's self in another's place, that broadens the horizon, that multiplies the means of self-expression.
That I have mentioned only a few outlets does not mean that I underestimate the importance of the others. When kindergarten children build a house of blocks it is real expression. So woodworking, gardening, a translation made with pleasure and skill, the solution of a problem in mathematics, original writing or speaking in any form — all these and many others should be considered for their expression-values as well as from other viewpoints.
To sum up, the chief aim in the arts, a supplementary aim throughout all school work, should be to broaden and to intensify impressions and appreciation of all that is worth while, and to encourage the fullest expression of the child's self in whatever forms it will take, although in many of those forms we know the expression will never become real skill.
Certainly no child should leave school without some understanding and love for literature, music, and the arts that represent by picture or form. The inspiration that comes through such study is an enduring influence in life.