The Role of 'Expressive Doing' in Education
Published: 2000 Author: Ricardo Iznaola
MY CHOICE OF TOPIC has been prompted, first, by the process of revision, indeed redefinition, underway at the University of Denver concerning our Core Curriculum, and by the desire to speak about what leading the life of a musician who has also led the life of the mind means to me.
On some other occasion[*] I had the opportunity to present my views concerning the topic of talent, exposing my conviction, formed after many years of experience guiding young and not so young along the path of musical expression, that the belief in innate talent is one of the most pernicious credos affecting our society, because of its fatalistic categorization of human beings into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in terms of potential for creative expression in the arts.
I also pointed out how this credo has allowed for an easy pedagogical way out for us teachers in the arts who, confronted with the difficult cases, the so-called ‘untalented’ (which I think of as the burdened), attribute our failure all too frequently to this inexorable law of nature that grants the privilege to a few but not to all.
Firstly, I want to follow up on these thoughts by pointing out the evident signs that show how the authors of university curricula, across the US, have accepted these beliefs, if not explicitly certainly by implication, and, secondly, how we can begin to change our minds and hearts, in order to provide our students, and ourselves in the process, with the educational tools that can lead each and every one of us on the road to maturation and integration.
The point I will try to make is fairly simple: we have overlooked for too long the fact that an essential component of any educational agenda worth pursuing is one that allows us to develop, in a balanced way, the three types of activity, or ‘doing’, which we human beings are capable of exercising – mind-doing, soul-doing, body-doing; or, thought, emotion and movement. Furthermore, it is my contention that the best way to deliver this educational component is through goal-directed tasks that synergistically integrate the three doings by requiring acts of skilled motoric control through which rich intellectual and emotional content can be expressed. Hence, my belief in the supreme importance of applied arts training in general education.
Mind you, the act itself is the vehicle for expression in these activities, a circumstance that sets them quite apart from the fundamental motor skills required in creative writing, for instance. From this perspective, oratory and poetic recitation would belong together with the other performing arts.
Education, from educare, to bring up, to raise, but also related to educere, from where to educe, to bring out, to develop, implies a wholesome and holistic approach to the development of personality. The person is not complete when only one-third of their trinitarian configuration is cultivated, and that is what, first and foremost, traditional approaches to core curricula have achieved: a fairly high development of intellectual, i.e. mind-doing, capabilities, with very limited development of expressive doing, that is to say, the skill to use your body in the creation of an emotionally charged form of expression.
It is symptomatic that the approaches to artistic creation that have been incorporated into core curricula have been based on the intellectual, critical-thinking aspects (appreciation and historical development) but have avoided application. Allowances for the latter have, typically, been left as optional course options in the liberal arts and sciences programmes. In my opinion, we at Denver University have not been much different from other institutions in this regard.
It is time to change all that. It is time to stop feeding the mythology of talent to justify our present lack of understanding on how best to help the burdened in their quest for the liberation of their potential for growth as thinking, feeling and acting beings. It is time for those of us working at the university level to lead the way so that others working at more basic levels in the educational pyramid begin to realise how deprived we are, as a society, if we continue to think about artistic activity as an ornamental and therefore, superfluous component of the curriculum.
A student working his or her way into a theatrical role for a dramatic production undergoes transformations that are inconceivable to anyone not involved in the process. The same happens to a dancer, or to the musician confronting the score of a great masterpiece with the goal of public performance. The rigour of the discipline to train the body, to understand the content of the material, to bring out all its emotional implications and nuances, to overcome the fear of observed performance as the time for the public presentation approaches, is, when watched from the outside, overwhelming, but is in fact life-enhancing, exhilarating and inspiring when completed successfully. Our students majoring in the arts at Denver University experience this on a regular basis.
There is no reason to believe that the main body of our students could not benefit from the same if those involved in the arduous but all-important process of rethinking our core curriculum accept, at least in principle, the premise proposed here and get to work, together with us that have the expertise in the delivery of methods and practices, for the sake of an educational philosophy that addresses all of the real needs of our students.
Carl Jung spoke of the functions of consciousness and their role in orienting us in coping with external and internal reality. We sense that an object exists, we define what it is, we feel how good or bad it is, and we interconnect it in space and time with the rest of the world through our intuition. Sensation, thought, feeling and intuition are our guiding lights. Educationally speaking, the Jungian ‘moment of orientation’, brought about when this quaternity of functions works in balance, will be all for naught if there is no accompanying act, an expressive act, that engages and commits us to the world in a significant way.
© 1999 Ricardo Iznaola[*] The topic of innate talent is dealt with in Ricardo Iznaola’s article, Unleashing Talent, which can be read on this site.[Back]