Friday, May 03, 2013

Arts in Education: Are the Students Ecstatic?

(Every few semesters, the task of giving the opening address for our middle school's art departmental awards falls to me.  Some previous addresses are here on the blog.  Today, we had a shorter time for our awards because we shared the assembly with Foreign Language awards.)

I am Scott Smoot, and I am happy to share our arts awards assembly with foreign language awards.
I'm happy, but I'm not ecstatic.

I'm happy, because it was foreign language class that made me sensitive to root meanings of words we use every day, and the experience of doing art happens to relate to the root meaning of the word ecstatic.  When something happens by luck to go our way, happy is the emotion we feel.

But an ecstatic feeling, while very pleasant, is something else entirely.  The word ecstatic combines a prefix meaning "out of" with the Latin root relating to status, statue and state.  When we are in a state outside of ourselves, we can fairly call the feeling ecstatic.

Or we could also call it doing art.  Artists must learn to step outside of themselves to see their work from another person's perspective.  For a musician, that means hearing how the instrument blends with others; for a visual artist, it means appealing to the viewer; for a singer or actor, it means getting into the thoughts and feelings of another person expressed in a song or script.    

Today we recognize arts students whom we would call exemplary.  That is, they are good examples of what it takes to make good art.  Exemplary artists concentrate on their business in class, and they use time outside of class to practice or revise.  They ask questions, make changes, and take satisfaction from nothing less than the best work they can imagine. 

Besides showing effort, they have an attitude that I'm calling "ecstatic."  They lose the self-conscious fear of looking foolish or different that can paralyze middle schoolers.  They are willing to listen to music that their peers don't appreciate.  They are willing to put their inner imaginations out there for all to see.  For the sake of making a better performance, they are willing to cooperate with classmates who may not share all the same interests.

They are also willing to be loud,  to be goofy, to cry on cue.   That can make exemplary arts students annoying.  As Mrs. Drew once observed, behaviors that may earn demerits from academic teachers, from arts teachers, earn awards.

We now present these tokens of appreciation to students whose effort and attitude provided examples that raised a bar for the class and inspired their teachers. 

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