UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Australian Art Education
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Jennifer McMahon
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This thesis is written in opposition to certain claims and assumptions made about aesthetic judgments by various teachers, artists and critics, which seem to the author to be fundamentally wrong and misguided. Sometimes these claims are expressed explicitly; and sometimes they are in a more implicit form, acting rather like unquestioned general assumptions that inform more specific discussions about particular works of art. Two of these claims or assumptions which the author hopes to undermine are: (1) aesthetic response and judgment are largely based on social conditioning and acquired schemata, such that we can be made to perceive in virtually any way at all because there are no constants which underpin our way of perceiving; (2) the term 'aesthetic' refers to taste which is totally subjective, that is, arbitrary, whimsical and personal etc. These and related claims seem to be potentially dangerous, in that they imply that there is no distinction between personal preferences and aesthetic evaluation, in which case art education becomes a kind of tyranny of fashion or taste. The alternative is to search for a rational basis to aesthetic response. In this paper the author attempts to do this by exploring the possibility that the foundations of aesthetic response are innate, because, if this is the case, it would indicate that aesthetic considerations have a common basis within us all, rather than belonging to a purely personal and subjective realm. In section 1, in search of foundations, the author turns to the art of those who are relatively unprogrammed in artistic conventions, in an attempt to distinguish between innate impulses and conditioned responses. Next, by looking for the motivation behind the aesthetic impulse, and what this can say about how the aesthetic is constituted, the author considers the possibility that the aesthetic impulse is in some way linked to characteristics which aid survival, which from an evolutionary point of view would justify its innateness. This includes studying the nature of perception, including various innate perceptual mechanisms and the part they play in the way our idea of the aesthetic is constituted, and some theories concerned with the psychological aspects involved in creativity, which link the aesthetic impulse with creativity in all fields of inquiry.
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