Art as Meditation in Our Schools

Along with contemplation and emptying comes play, fantasy, and creativity.  Creativity is utterly natural to our species—indeed it is the very working definition of humanity that anthropologists take with them into the field when they look for bones of old bipeds—bones that are accompanied by artifacts.

“Artists in the Garden,” Chicago Wisdom Project

We are a biped who makes things.  We are powerfully creative beings, which not only explains the beauty and genius we give birth to in our music, theatre, paintings, architecture, and science, but also explains our capacity for destruction or evil.  A useful education today must instruct us in our creativity so that we do not turn it over to others, and so that we use it for purposes that are life-giving and life-affirming (biophilia) rather than destructive or death-affirming (necrophilia).

Too often, art classes are narrowly confined to developing specialized skill or producing objects.  A pedagogy of creativity will teach art as process, not art as specialization or art as product-production.  It will teach it to all students, not just to art majors.  Entering into the relationship between color, canvas, light, shadow, form and the painter; between clay and the sculptor; between body and the dancer; between sound and the singer; between images and the poet—all of this is an essential part of an awe-based educational curriculum, one that will culminate in wisdom—not just knowledge–since “awe is the beginning of wisdom.”

“Painting” by Khunkorn Laowisit, Pexels

Time and again over my 48 years of teaching and over-seeing teachers, I have seen students’ lives turn around and become totally transformed by these process-oriented classes in art as meditation.  Art transforms; art heals; art offers the language by which to transform, awaken, and heal others.

We ought to be teaching about humanity’s capacity for evil so that we can consciously move beyond it.  Evil has everything to do with our capacity for creativity, with what we choose to do with it, and with our not turning it over to others.  Gas ovens and hydrogen bombs are born of human creativity after all.

“Fingers” by Mojca JJ, Pixabay

In a postmodern educational setting, art skills will be practiced daily, including but not limited to painting, dance, ritual-making, clay, song, chant, poetry, rap, video, theatre, and more.  The new and ancestral creation stories and cosmology will provide the healthy content for these art experiences.  That way, students develop their artistic skills and also engage at a deep and creative level with the learning of wisdom stories, even as they share them with others.  In these postmodern times, when the young take rapidly to technological skills, it is up to the elders to provide substantial content.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, pp. 111f, 114.
Banner Image: “Sulei Drum” by Arianne Richards, from the Chicago Wisdom Project, inspired by the Ancestral Wisdom Education pedagogy described in this post.

For Deeper Contemplation:

Practice some form of art today in a mindful way…

After a meditation that empties you and leads you into silence, dance or sing or draw what you are feeling deeply inside yourself.

Recommended Reading

After 29 successful years of offering an alternative educational model to adults, Matthew Fox here lays out his basic educational philosophy and presents a revolution in education in the process.  “A.W.E.” stands for Ancestral Wisdom Education: balancing the three R’s by honoring the teachings of the Ancestors of all species, and by teaching values through what Fox calls “the 10 C’s.”

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.

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2 thoughts on “Art as Meditation in Our Schools”

  1. Avatar
    Nancy Wilkinson

    I teach Art as Prayer. Ann Lamont’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow is out text with art to go with each theme in a visual journal. Where are your workshops offered?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Nancy,
      It is so good to hear of your work. YOur students are very fortunate to follow this process with you. Matthew’s workshops and lectures are listed on the opening page of each Daily Meditation – the page with only the beginning of the meditation that comes through your email. You may also want to follow Creation Spirituality Communities, and sign up for their newsletter. It often includes news about art as meditation workshops. Here is their website:
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DML Team

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