Realism Teaching Method Shows
|1)||“The purpose of education is to like the world.”
(Self and World)
|2)||“The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” This principle is the basis of all our lessons and in this presentation we show how two particular pairs of opposites — power and precision, strength and delicacy — are central in a science lesson on the anatomy of the human hand and an art lesson about prehistoric cave painting.|
|3)||The greatest interference to a student’s ability to learn has been explained for the first time in the history of education. It is the desire in us to have contempt, which Mr. Siegel defined as the desire to get “an addition to self through the lessening of something else.”|
The students we teach in New York City endure a very great deal. Many of their families undergo tremendous economic injustice. Many meet prejudice that understandably makes them furious. It is very difficult to make sense of a world that has terrorism, war and the fear that these can cause. Without knowing it, young people can mistakenly use what they are meeting to feel the world is a contemptible mess—and decide that they don’t want to take into their minds facts representing that inimical world. Every person is in danger of making that mistake.
It is crucial that teachers and students learn that there is a difference between the way the world is made and how it is run. It may not be managed fairly, but art and science show it is made well. As students see this, their contempt is opposed. They love the logic of this method, and it is our pleasure to show why.
This is a report of a workshop as originally presented at the New York State Art Teachers Association on November 17, 2001. The responses contained in this article reflect those given by the art educators in attendance at the workshop.
|The audience was asked what they saw about
the human hand as it ispresented in this X-Ray. Persons were struck immediately
by the way one hand has a firm grip on the bottle, while two fingers from
the other hand are used with precision and delicacy as they try to remove
What we are seeing is the human hand putting opposites together by performing the power grip and the precision grip at the same time.
|I then read this from “The Incredible
Machine,” to see how these two grips work in the human hand:
I love using the Aesthetic Realism teaching method because through the opposites, young people see the subject is related to them. High school students are very pained by the way they often go after power, and so are teachers. For example, a student can explode with anger and want to punch someone because that person said something about him or her. It is not uncommon for fights to break out in school hallways and cafeterias. And students and teachers alike can feel that the way to take care of ourselves is to lash out, fly into a rage, without asking: Am I being exact, precise about what actually happened?
Many years ago I was angry in a way that hurt my life very much—because the way I was against people and for my own opinions was generally inexact and sloppy. In an Aesthetic Realism class, Eli Siegel explained: “We like anger because we feel it establishes our personality.” And he asked me: “Have you been interested in seeing whether your anger has been sloppy?” “No, I haven’t been,” I said, with a feeling of relief. He suggested an assignment that continues to change my life: to write an essay—“How Can I Be Proud of My Next Anger?” Students and teachers desperately need to see that being precise about the world and people is the SAME as being powerful. And certainly this is what our nation needs to learn.
As my students see, through studying the power grip and the precision grip in the hand, how opposites that fight in them—power and precision, or accuracy—work together beautifully, they become excited about the subject—and also have more hope about their own lives.
I asked the audience: “Can you name an activity that you perform every day with your hands, either as an artist or in your capacity as a teacher?” Some of their responses were: to collate papers, paint, staple papers together, and turn the pages of a book. We saw that in each of these activities, there was some relation of the precision and power grip.
I told them: A young woman in one of my science classes who majored in music—LaGuardia is a high school for the Arts—was thrilled to see that as she played the violin, she used the power grip to hold the violin close to her, and with the same hand she pressed the individual strings. She also used the precision grip to hold the bow to the violin from which such beautiful sound emerged.
|It is important to see that what
we’re able to do with our hands has everything to do with their structure—how
they are made! There are 19 bones in the human hand.
50% of the bones in the body are in the hands and feet—those structures
that we most meet the world with. I asked: “As you look at
the hand, do you think it is beautiful?” They felt yes, and there
was much discussion. “Does it have to do with the way it puts opposites
together—notably strength and delicacy?” I asked. They thought it
Looking more closely at the hand (see Figure 2) I pointed to the part that forms the power grip—there are five bones in the palm called metacarpals and 10 bones that are part of the fingers called phalanges.
|Persons looked at how these bones were in their own hands as they formed the power grip with palm and fingers. I asked: “What relation do you see between the way these bones are made and their ability to form the power grip?” We saw that the metacarpals, and the phalanges connected to them, are long and fairly thick—they are very strong and they enable the hand to close, forming the power grip., “Even as they are strong,” I asked, “is there anything graceful or delicate about them?” “Yes,” they said.|
|As the audience looked at the
hand from a side angle, I asked: (See Figure 3) “Does this show that
the bones of the hand are strong AND also delicate? How can hard
bone make such a graceful curve?” This is possible because in the
very structure of each bone—the way it successfully puts together narrowness
and width, strength and delicacy--enables the hand to form the power grip.
And look at the tips of the fingers, the distal phalanges. These
affect my students very much—the fact that they are so delicate and useful
for “accuracy and fine control.”
In the same hand we have graceful digits and long, hearty bones that enable the hand to perform the nearly 1000 functions that Isaac Newton mentioned the hand can perform. When students see this, they feel there is fittingness between how a thing is made and the work it is able to perform. This counters the feeling a student can have that the world is a meaningless mess.
As a young woman, I told the audience, these opposites were at war in me. I went back and forth between feeling I was soft, a pushover, easily taken advantage of, to feeling I was hard as nails. The way I went back and forth between these two things made me feel like I was two different people, including in the classroom. It puzzled my students tremendously. In an Aesthetic Realism class many years ago, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Do you want to be amiable or fierce?” And he said to me, “A girl who feels she can be gentle AND strong wants to be that.” This was so true. Like James, I hadn’t thought it was possible—now I was learning that it is!
I came to see that my desire to be kind to a person, even gentle, and forceful with a person could work for the same purpose, and I began to like myself more—and my teaching improved a thousand fold, at least!
“As you look at the hand and how it is designed,” I asked the audience, “do you think it shows that reality—which after all, the human hand is a part of, has an organization or composition that you can respect?” They thought it did. I asked, “Is this design in every person?” They said, “Yes, it is.” And I told them this question, which I have asked my students: “Do you think the same hand that is used so beautifully to paint or to sculpt with can also be used to hurt another person?” It is very important for students to see that the human hand can be used for RESPECT or CONTEMPT.
And I have asked my classes: “Do you think if we really saw that another person is made in the same way oneself is, that this person wants to put together the same opposites as we do, we could hurt that person?” Students have invariably seen the answer is, “NO!”
I read this statement, from a representative young man in one of my classes about the effect of the Aesthetic Realism teaching method on his life. Not only did he learn science successfully, he came to have a new and prouder relation in himself of power and precision, strength and kindness:
This class has really changed the way I look at certain things. Just today I bumped into someone in the hall and I just turned around and apologized and he was very angry. So me, not trying to have contempt for him, I apologized again and he was stunned. It was as if no one ever apologized to him before. In the past, I would have said, “What’s your problem?” and we would have gotten into a fight.”
It is tremendously important for young people studying the visual or performing arts to see that the beauty present in art is NOT in a different and superior world to the beauty to be found in ALL reality. It is a fact I am very proud of that through this great method, my students feel more integrated because as they care more for reality through seeing the opposites in science, it increases their love for art and life itself.
In sixteen weeks, we study over 30,000 years of art, from prehistoric art to the high Renaissance. What relates all these different styles and cultures? It is the opposites! And students see, too, through the principle I’ve just quoted how art says something about the questions of their own lives.
We began with the earliest known record of man’s visual expression—prehistoric art, which roughly begins 35,000 years ago. In recent years there has been increasing interest in these works created thousands of years ago deep inside the earth on cave walls. They have meaning for us now in the 21st century. These early artists held in their own hands—using the age-old precision and power grips-- large flat bones for palettes, red and yellow clay for pigment, animal bristles and reeds for brushes. With these, they painted horses, deer, bison, bulls, and many other animals, with such precision that their species can be identified today, and many of them are truly beautiful. In order for students to get a sense of how these images were placed on the cave wall, I showed the class this view of the main hall of the cave at Lascaux, France. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. Hall of Bulls, View of Main Hall, Lascaux, 15,000-10,000 B.C.
Figure 2. Hall of Bulls, Left Wall, (Detail of Figure 1) Lascaux, 15,000 – 10,000. Dordogne, France
“to represent as convincing a pose and action as possible…The artist saw and recorded only those aspects that were essential to interpret the appearance and character of the animal—its grace, or awkwardness, its cunning, dignity or ferocity.”
Figure 3. Deer and Head of a Horse, Niaux, c. 15,000 – 10,000 B.C. Ariège, France
We saw that opposites related to power and precision, strength and delicacy, are throughout the drawing. The antlers have grace and power. They are a oneness of gentle curve and sharp point. The body is heavy--yet slender, delicate legs support the mass of the deer. The line of the back is gracefully contoured while thick and strong: it is a graceful, sweeping diagonal that joins deer and horse. The line itself is everywhere, in every millimeter, soft yet firm.
“Is this a beautiful oneness of strength and delicacy, power and precision?” I asked. The class agreed, it is! It’s not delicate for two inches and strong for the next two inches. These opposites are going for one purpose. I told my students that these prehistoric paintings were beautiful for the same reason art of any age is beautiful. “All beauty,” Eli Siegel is the critic who explained, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” And, art I learned is the greatest opponent to contempt because an artist wants to see meaning in the things of the world and to express them with form and respect.
Seeing how strength and delicacy, power and precision were one in this cave painting affected my students very much, including several young men, who liked showing how tough they were. They think to be sensitive is to be weak, vulnerable, and that people will take advantage of them. Students long to be both strong and graceful, and they suffer because they feel they can’t be. And this is a question teachers have too—we feel we have to be strong—and then feel awful because we don’t feel we are kind. In an Aesthetic Realism consultation I was once asked: “Have you a ‘gentle’ attitude and a ‘fist’ attitude? Have you been unkind in BOTH ways?” I had been. And I began to learn that in every instance of successful art, opposites are working well together. Seeing this has also made my students much more hopeful.
A question I have asked my students is, “Is being affected by beauty strength or weakness?” And “Would it have been possible for these early stone-age artists to paint these animals with grace and strength, power and delicacy, if they didn’t observe these qualities in the animals, and also have these possibilities in their very selves?” The answer was a resounding, “NO!”
Students who can feel painfully separate from the people they see every day, were moved to think about the feeling of a person who lived 35,000 years ago, imaging how, perhaps, he was deeply pleased seeing a horse or deer running with such power and grace; moved by the dignity of a heavy bison, and even frightened by the ferocity of a bull. And they began to think about people they knew in a deeper, kinder way, including each other.
As students saw that they were related through the opposites to people so far back in time, what was far away and strange, came to have immediate meaning for their lives. They came to have a great care for these paintings and a great respect for the mind of early man who painted them. The ancient artist--like the modern artist and like us--was trying to put opposites together, and did beautifully in these cave paintings in a way we can learn from.
One of my students, Gricel*, wrote: “When you think about how long ago these paintings were done and how they were trying to make sense of what they saw in the world, this gives me a feeling of closeness to people.” Tyshona was excited to see as she wrote: “People thousands and thousands of years before me were trying to fulfill the same things I am.”
|As we studied the history of art through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method we saw the hope of people throughout
the centuries, from prehistory to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and our
very selves, was to see meaning in the world and to respect it.
I conclude with one example of a work that moved my students very much as it has people for years—the masterpiece of Hellenistic Greek art from the 2nd century B.C. the “Nike of Samothrace, ” (figure 4).
This a marble sculpture—so different from the simple line
drawings we just studied—yet the very same opposites of strength and grace,
power and precision present the cave paintings, and the human hand, are
|“The ‘Nike of Samothrace’ is simply breathtaking--how
so much strength can be seen in the marble [and] still have light
delicacies. The folds of her flowing dress, the way the wind
seems to blow her away,…yet her feet are firmly on the ground with
so much grace and beauty. In the ‘Nike’ are qualities I want in myself.”
|“I have learned…how the art of every culture has differences
and similarities and I see myself from a different point of view now.”
This method is taught by Aesthetic Realism Consultants
with All For Education in a bi-weekly workshop for teachers of every subject
and grade level--The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel as Teaching Method---at
the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. For more information
you can visit the website of the Aesthetic
Realism Foundation at www.AestheticRealism.org.
* The names of students have been changed for this paper.
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(c) by Donita Ellison. For permission to reprint please contact me by email: DonitaEllison@msn.com.