Teaching Philosophyby Judith Rodenbeck
Two radically incompatible models of art are today in operation: one in which art is a luxury commodity produced by a specialist or professionally credentialed artisan or member of the “creative” class, and marketized accordingly; and the other, more anthropological, even ontological, in which “art” is a fundamental activity of what John Dewey called the “live creature.” Appealing to a kind of “longtail” specialism is double-edged, for if on the one hand micro-communities of thinkers and makers flourish––a phenomenon that was itself marketized by “relational aesthetics”––there’s a risk of quietist critical escapism vis-à-vis the megaflora and––fauna of the art agora.
In my profession we are occasionally asked to draft something called a “teaching philosophy.” Love of knowledge is all for the good, but far too often knowledge is valued over love; worse, it’s commoditized and packaged. The result across the intellectual spectrum, and I’d dare say across the full cultural panoply of the developed West, has been a hypervaluation of technologies and techniques––knowledge as information––at the expense of poiesis, a concept which condenses in verb form agency, intelligence, matter, and temporality: germination, growth, intuitive spark. Poiesis also implies a culture of care in which the value of that which is outside oneself thriving is apart from oneself and at the same time part of oneself, a value not driven by ego but by empathy.
This is one way to think, too, about pedagogy. Perception is sensorial, proprioceptive, intelligent, affective, mirrored, fractal; complex, it exceeds our capacity for understanding; discursive, it has a history. Which means it has a future, and though it would be a mistake to think of such a discourse in evolutionary terms, an optimist might imagine this future in expansive terms. That is, a more embodied understanding of the arts; no, better still, an understanding of the arts as embodied. Respect for the “live creature”: Charles Fourier with his formula for harmonious living, in which a third of every person’s day should be devoted to creative activity, was on the right track; and Michel Foucault was also correct to understand aesthetics so expansively in terms of what he called “care of the self.” And a slowing down of the vast flood of anxiously self-positioning verbiage. Wisdom: there is plenty of intelligence in the world, but far too little wisdom. Artistic activity, poiesis, is one of the few ways we cultivate it deeply; let’s grow more of that.
JUDITH RODENBECK is the author of Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings; she teaches art history at Sarah Lawrence College.