|Variations on a Blue Guitar: The
Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education
|Teachers College Press, 2001, 256 pp.
Different Way of Knowing through Aesthetic Education
Joan Baum, Ph.D.
Greene, the summer-session guru of the Lincoln Center Institute,
has been at her inspirational fount for over 25 years, an admired
and eloquent advocate of aesthetic education. She has quite a
reputation for both metaphysical rumination as well as poetic
personal comment. It is unfortunate, therefore, that her book
cannot talk, for the lectures assembled here—many published for
the first time—would benefit from her voice. On the page, in chronological
order and pressed into groups, her ideas can seem a bit too abstract
and repetitive—desirable enough in a workshop, but tending toward
the diffuse in print. Still, it is gratifying to have such a passionate
enthusiast exhort on the subject of the arts and their integration
in the curriculum. Given the still prevalent habit of regarding
the arts as curricular add-ons, and thus the first to go in budget
cuts, the lectures are timely and significant.
This is clearly a work that belongs in graduate schools of education
and centers devoted to culture and the arts. Greene is an ardent
proponent of sustained, interdisciplinary exchange in the classroom.
Aesthetic education is not art education or art appreciation,
but a different “way of knowing.” She wants people to make new
connections, “to feel from the inside what the arts are like and
how they mean.” In too many schools, she reminds her audience,
the arts are still looked upon as “self indulgence,” Maxine Greene
is richly allusive, quoting with ease and frequency from literature,
painting, music, philosophy, history, mathematics and science.
Some recurring favorites are Mozart, Dewey, Picasso, Hannah Arendt,
Wallace Stevens and Shakespeare; her range is wide and deep, embracing
both low and high culture, as they reflect and stimulate the imagination.
In fact, “The blue guitar,” her symbol for aesthetic education,
was Wallace Stevens’ “metaphor for imagination and the image of
the man with the blue guitar who will not play things as they
Aesthetic education, through awakening the imagination (“uncoupling”
us from the familiar), can “save lives” as well as change them,
free children from feelings of hopelessness, and curricula from
obsessive attention to standards and outcomes. What aesthetic
education might do for the adults who attend her Institute sessions
is more than amply demonstrated in these lectures. #
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