Ateliers and Aesthetics
“When we speak of aesthetics we speak of our bodies. From this point of view we can have a better understanding of what is meant by art. The work of art is to create antennae. Antennae which perceive all that is intolerable, discomforting, hateful and repugnant in the universe that we ourselves have created.” (Vecchi, 2010)
Vecchi writes about the radical move Loris Malaguzzi made when he positioning the atelier – and the atelierista – in Reggio schools. The atelier’s central location also positions it as the lifeblood of a school, a space where all things flow out and flow in. This conception of aesthetics as central to human life and necessary for children’s daily experiences is so different to see in person than the way the arts sometimes get integrated into projects even in some Reggio-inspired schooling and writing in the U.S. Arts-integration is sometimes reduced to making things, painting, drawing, or even a dramatic performance. Rarely do I hear educators articulating the fundamental purpose of aesthetics (or “art” as we usually call it) in education as “creating antennae” for our full bodies to perceive the beautiful and mundane and unjust in the world.
Inviting a non-educator artist to play a central role in curriculum and pedagogy is brilliant. Too often in educator preparation programs, the focus is so narrowly aimed at all the wrong things – controlling bodies (aka classroom management), controlling minds (aka disciplinary knowledge), and controlling futures (aka assessment, labeling, and tracking). A serious commitment to aesthetics and its role in life would mean not only inviting non-educator artists to the table and school, but also immersing future educators in antennae-making through deep and full-bodied engagement with aesthetics.
I wish for children, youth, and teachers to live their daily lives in schools saturated with the sensibilities of artists to make sense of the world, and surrounded by massive amounts of diverse materials through which to make that sense. This would no doubt create problems in the fundamental ideology of U.S. schooling and society, however, where most people believe there is one right answer and one right way – or at least “best practices” – and the ambiguity that comes along with art-making and living through aesthetics would challenge that ideology to its core.
Vecchi writes, “An aesthetic sense is fed by empathy, an intense relationship with things; it does not put things in rigid categories and might, therefore, constitute a problem where excessive certainty and cultural simplification is concerned” (Vecchi, p. 9). We are certainly in a time and place where “excessive certainty” and “cultural simplification” are highly valued, and ambiguity and aesthetics are deeply suspect. How might we individually begin to make ourselves more pliable? If I settle into a body/mind/way of being that embraces ambiguity, uncertainty, and a creative sensibility that cultivates my antennae of the world, what impact would that have on the people with whom I interact every day? What impact will it have on me? On the world? What if children and youth and teachers were encouraged to cultivate such uncertainty? I wish for the collective courage to take such a worthwhile risk.