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The Reality of Instruction in the Fine Arts and Literature

The real results of instruction in literature and the fine arts seem distant from the above ideal. Consider the following:

  • Though virtually all citizens are given years of instruction in some dimensions of at least some of the fine arts and literature (usually literature), is there not abundant evidence to suggest that most people do not think esthetically or artistically as a result? Attempts to elevate the taste of most people seem to be a failure. Most people, even after a college education, seem to prefer the products of the popular media to the products of the artistic community. What is more, it is hard to determine what percentage of those whose supposed preference for the products of the artistic community is in truth a pretense born of self-delusion, enabling them to feel superior to the common herd.

  • What accounts for the fact that most of us cannot give an intelligible explanation for our judgments about what we consider beautiful in painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, music, drama, or literature?

  • Isn't it true that most people have not thought about the role of beauty and art in our lives and are not interested in doing so?

  • Isn't it true that most people cannot explain how to distinguish an artistic question or issue from any other kind of questions and issues and tend to respond to such questions in superficial and uninterested ways?

  • Isn't it true that most people cannot accurately explain any basic concepts or principles of any of the fine arts or literature and do not use those concepts or principles in accounting for the world they experience?

  • Finally, isn't it true that few people change their reading habits as a result of instruction in literature and, consequently, are just as unlikely to read important literature at the end of instruction as they were at the beginning?

It seems likely that some exception must be granted to the judgments implied above in the domain of trained performance in the fine arts and literature. The most successful form of instruction in the fine arts and literature is in the area of skill development: basic painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, acting, and writing skills, as well as performing on a musical instrument. It is questionable, however, to what degree most of the performances made possible by this training rise to the level of esthetic or artistic excellence. In any case, only a small minority of persons develops a level of excellence in the performing arts.

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