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Friday, March 30, 2007

Refining the Fine Arts

Something special is happening today in Albany, New York. The annual Arts and Mathematics Conference is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The conference gives students who appreciate the inherent connection between the two subjects to unveil their work. Nat Friedman, founder of the Art and Mathematics Conference, says

"Art and mathematics are both about seeing relationships. Creativity is about seeing from a new viewpoint and this unifies art and mathematics."

Which got me thinking, why doesn't that intimate relationship manifest itself in our schools? I have several friends currently teaching fine arts in the public school system. More than most teachers, they have to worry about their funding being cut. It's hard for most pragmatic politicians to justify a marching band when science textbooks are out of date or missing entirely. Those art teachers will happily expound upon the documented correlations between art appreciation and IQ. They will point out that music education can actually raise a students performance on standardized tests. The problem is that they're only making half an argument, and they aren't backing it up with actions.

Why can music and art do all that? It isn't because the arts are so different from the sciences, but rather, that they are so similar, that makes them powerful. Music isn't like math; it is math. Yet many music teachers don't realize this. Study after study has shown that the mind of a composer and the mind of a mathematician look nearly identical, at least while practicing their crafts. Art is just applied mathematics. So why would we want to separate the two? At my high school, their was an entire building devoted to the arts. It was both a fortress and a prison to art education. Of the major fine art programs, only drama was housed in the main building, as a subset of the English department. (Of course, since my graduation, Drama has seceded and now resides within the fortress walls.) There is no logical explanation for this. Drama is literature, ans should be taught alongside novels and prose. In fact, all students should have to act out the plays the are "reading," not just the "creepy" theatre kids. Music theory should be taught in the Math department, and so on.

It isn't enough to say that there exists a connection between art and science, we have to show students what that connection is. Pleading that art education is imperative for our public schools isn't going to keep funding from being cut, we have to actually make it indispensable. This isn't going to happen as long as the art departments keep celebrating the difference between their courses and the core curriculum. They must become the core curriculum.

I would love to see math teachers invite composers to their classrooms, or music and art teachers to invite mathematicians to explain the sciences of sound and art. Only by truly understanding the patterns embedded deep within can students learn to appreciate the beauty on the surface.

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