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Art as expression.

Subscribers often tell me that Art Is, the feature found each month on the back protective cover of SchoolArts, is one of their favorite departments. Usually, this consists of a design interpreting significant artists' verbal attempts to define what art is...its meanings, values and purposes in their understandings. A definitive characterization of this short, three-letter word or concept continues to elude us; but the search is, fortunately, unremitting.

One of my favorite ways to begin a class, at all levels, is to ask students to compose a brief sentence with their definition of art. While these attempts at definition range from the whimsical to the weighty, the discussion generated by actually thinking about what art is--often for the first time--is always time well spent. Sometimes, I would ask for one-word definitions, priming their thought patterns by showing the NAEA slide set, Art in the Mainstream, with its visual/verbal discussion of Art as Work, Language and Values. This exercise would further extend and refine the students' grasp of the subject. One of the defining words that would appear most often was Expression. That isn't to say that all the other terms that would appear, ranging from fun to fundamental, don't have their role to play in the art definition galaxy. In fact, several issues of SchoolArts from last year explored other meanings, i.e., Art and Nature, Art and Technology and Art and Imagination. In addition, Art and Communications will be the theme of next month's issue, and Art and Culture will be featured in April.

But Art is Expression, and that may well be the only definition that embraces all the arts and all age levels. Dictionaries provide a number of interesting definitions of the noun expression, and most of them are in the spirit of an art context. In his book, Art as Experience, John Dewey has some interesting thoughts on the meaning of the term..."Etymologically, an act of expression is a squeezing out, a pressing forth. Juice is expressed when grapes are crushed in the wine takes the wine press as well as the grape to express juice, and it takes environing and resisting objects as well as an internal emotion and impulsion to constitute an expression of emotion." Dewey adds a cautionary note on valid expression in a simile comparing expression to the power of a volcano: "Even the volcano's outburst presupposes a long period of prior compression, and, if the eruption sends forth molten lava and not merely separate rocks and ashes, it implies a transformation of original raw materials. 'Spontaneity's is the result of long periods of activity, or else it is so empty as not to be an act of expression."

This issue of SchoolArts presents some remarkable examples of student art expressions. In addition, the teachers/authors all provide insight into the "long periods of activity," involving motivation, perception and discussion--perhaps about experiences, art-historical information, techniques or procedures that guide free and spontaneous expression into intended and qualitative art objects. The dynamics of teaching are the vital force that makes the difference in the classroom and, most often, in the students' art expression. We hope you enjoy viewing and reading the variety of articles and features in this issue on the theme of Art as Expression.
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Author:Anderson, Kent
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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