Herman Harrell Horne.

The teacher as artist; an essay in education as an aesthetic process online

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U . S . A


In the following pages the first essay raises the
question whether the art of teaching may in a
measure become one of the fine arts, and answers
in the affirmative, under certain conditions.
What these conditions are the second essay at-
tempts to set forth. Though the aesthetic experi-
ence is complex and difficult to analyze, I have
endeavored to be as intelligible as the subject
itseK allows, having in mind busy teachers who
have neither the time nor the inclination to
puzzle over unnecessary difficulties.

That the standard here set up for the teaching
process is high, perhaps too high for general at-
tainment yet awhile, is admitted; yet we may
steer by the stars. My idealistic writings on edu-
cation have been criticized for lifting the stand-
ards too high, "putting the teacher on a pedes-
tal," and seeing philosophical significance in
"mere pedagogy." The charge is well founded



— unless you who read, having the eternal
perfection in your hearts, prove otherwise by
your beautiful work in shaping individuals and

H. H. H.

Leonia, New Jersey
October 1916


Editor's Introduction vii

I. Is TEAcmNG A Fine Art? i

II. The Shriving op an Inartistic Teacher . 39

References 59



There are many teachers who are good artisans;
there are only a few who are fine artists. All
teachers who are successful enough to hold their
appointments possess the useful power to trans-
form human nature so that it is better informed,
more moral, and more effectively active than
before. But the process by which these valuable
results are brought about may have been more or
less mechanical and quite unpleasing to the
pupil. The pupil himself, well informed, thought-
ful, and dynamic, may not be a wholesome and
attractive personality. The process and the
product of the finely artistic teacher are vastly
different. He teaches, he is inspiring and genial,
• and those who study and labor under his guid-
ance do so with spontaneity and affection. The
men and women he rears are more than strong
and forceful, learned and skillful; they are har-
moniously developed personalities, wholesome
and charming, for whom "the world steps aside"



more than half the time. The fine artist in the
classroom differs from the mere artisan in more
things than degree of ability. There is a differ-
ence both of aim and of method.

There was an older type of education that
made of every man it touched the scholar and
gentleman. Too often our newer t)^e of school
training makes only the scholar and omits the
gentleman. It is the blend of the two at which
the truly artistic teacher aims. However narrow
the field of study may seem to be, this master
pursues his specialty with a reverent regard for
relationships and settings. He gives a liberal
education in a single course. His treatment is
specialized but never narrowing. Into the class-
room he brings a character as well as a mind.
He conveys both values and truths. In him
there is no forgetfulness of the man, the gentle-
man, in whom the trained mind is to reside.
While his direct and obvious business is to make
a thinker, he never forgets the more important
obligation of training character. His objective
is nothing less than the making of a wholesome,
attractive, and admirable personality, which


reveals no inconsistency, no lack of balance, no
want of charm. His artistic and pedagogic aim
is to produce a beautiful character.

As the ends toward which we mould human
nature differ, so the processes of achievement
vary. The fine artist at teaching has a technique
different from that of any ordinary teacher. To
begin with he has a keen regard for the individu-
ality of his products. He handles each boy and
girl with a particular care which takes into
account personal traits. For this reason he is
versatile in the ways and means of his craft. His
teaching life seldom seems to repeat itself.
Every moment, every topic, every human mood
is a new challenge to his resourcefulness. His is
a life of adventure, in which there is nothing of
the dull repetition, the monotony, and the
routine of which so many instructors complaiu.
Each youth is still true to himself when such a
teacher is done with his instruction. The educa-
tional machine, with its uniform disregard for va-
riations in materials and its passion for making
all human units copies of one another, cannot
exist in a company of artistic teachers.


The teacher of whom we speak is a sym-
pathetic interpreter. An idealist he is, trying to
realize his ideals in human substance; but he has
a fine regard for what is human. The acade-
mician and the pedant are unlovely products
in his eyes. He tolerates human imperfection
rather than wrench youth too far from its in-
stinctive bases. His is the art, not of making a
new kind of man, but of improving the one he
finds. He accentuates whatever virtues he finds,
and softens the weaknesses, leaving in our pres-
ence an old and familiar friend whom we find
more admirable and companionable than be-
fore. There is something finely tolerant about
such a worker in human stuff. He is as far as can
be from that fanaticism which would overpower
every pupil's soul and make it like the school-

The artist's ways are interesting. He keeps his
students open-eyed. He is as sure of purpose as
any old-fashioned martinet, but he does not
drive. He stimulates, he suggests, he exemplifies.
His methods are patient and roundabout, but
the speed he puts in his pupils more than com-


pensates for the length of the route taken. His
workshop in mid-process does not seem as tidy
as one might expect; but his job is the neatest in
the end. The children are forever making mis-
takes as they try themselves out. The artist-
teacher is unabashed regardless of the number of
visitors who see the incompleteness of each step.
He will get the perfect result he wants in the
end — a man or a woman poised, thoughtful,
kindly, and sure. He will have given his own love
of high values, clear thinking, and forceful action
to his wards. Against any imperfection he has
left with them, he has given them the power to
grow forever. His creativeness has been dynamic.
The teacher who sets out upon the duty of
teaching young men and women the fine art of
living, must himself be an artist at living. Cul-
ture is his scholarship. In addition he must be an
artist at transmitting life. Personality is the
instrument for conveying his message. Let every
aspiring teacher who is not afraid of a difficult
and a subtle task be a student of fine artistry.
Its general laws will offer more than one rich



Teaching as a physical process

That teaching is a physical process, when re-
garded from a certain point of view, is admitted.
Teachers make use of their own bodies, of the
bodies of their pupils, of sound waves, of ether
vibrations, of schoolrooms, books, and appara-
tus. Indeed, the physical aspects of good teach-
ing have come into great prominence recently in
the way of school hygiene, medical inspection,
dietetics, and care for heating, lighting, ventila-
tion, as well as exterior and interior decoration.

Teaching as an intellectual process

That teaching is an intellectual process also,
none will care to deny. Indeed, from the modem
historical standpoint, teaching since the Renais-
sance in Europe has been mainly an intellectual


process, with emphasis placed on the getting of
knowledge, first of the humanities, then of the
sciences, and finally of society. From this stand-
point "to teach" is synon)anous with to instruct,
to inform, to communicate or awaken ideas. To
regard the end of teaching as either knowledge,
or the ability to think, or both, is to emphasize
the intellectual element involved in it.

Teaching as a personal process

That teaching is also a moral, a personal, a
spiritual process, we must also admit, for the
teacher is an influential person and the pupils are
susceptible persons, and in teaching there is an
interchange of personality between teacher and
taught, as well as the exchange of ideas. The
elusive and intangible and not the least impor-
tant results of teaching belong to it as a personal
process. Where professionalism enters teaching,
this personal aspect enters least.

Is teaching also an cesthetic process?

But is teaching also an aesthetic process? Or,
is it capable of becoming such? That is our pres-



ent question. It may be admitted at the outset
that often, perhaps usually, teaching is neither a
thing of beauty nor a joy forever.

We are not now concerned to ask whether
teaching essentially is a physical, or intellectual,
or personal, or aesthetic process, — perhaps it is
essentially a personal process, — but only to ask
whether teaching is, at least potentially, an
aesthetic process.

De Quincey^s Essay on Murder

The most humorous and the most ironical of
the writings of Thomas De Quincey is his Essay
on Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts. De
Quincey's serio-comic genius could no doubt have
succeeded equally well with our topic. If murder
may be regarded as a fine art, we may imagine
him asking, why not teaching even more so? For
the murderer can at most destroy only the body,
but the teacher can maim, aye destroy, even the
soul. But, lacking the genius of De Quincey, we
must omit the comic element in the treatment
and consider only seriously the possibility of
teaching being or even becoming a fine art. In


his fascinating discussion De Quincey proceeded
by examples, considering different instances of
murder from the aesthetic standpoint; but our
serious mode of treatment will require us to pro-
ceed by principles. The discussion will lead us
into several matters concerning art, in relation to
each of which we can test teaching as a candidate
for membership in the circle of the arts.

The nature of art

To begin with, what is art? Professor Tufts ^
defines art as " any activity or production involv-
ing intelligence and skill." This definition per-
mits us to contrast art with three other things,
namely, unskillful production, science, and a
work of nature.

Unskilled labor and art

An unskillful activity, such as carrying a hod
of brick, stands in contrast with such a skillful
activity as bricklaying; and bricklaying again
stands in contrast with such a highly skillful

1 J. H. Tufts, article "Art and Art Theories" in Baldwin's
Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology.



activity as designing a brick house. Even the
hod-carrier may develop a certain skill in han-
dling his burden in the easiest way. A group of
laborers hammering steel drills in a quarry show
additional skill when they beat out a rhythm.

Science and art

In contrast with science, which is knowledge,
an art is action. In science, the intellect is pri-
marily involved; in art, the will. In science, truth
is our goal; in art, performance of some kind. It
is true that this contrast is not absolute, for
there is no science without the will to know and
there is no art without the intellect, as the defini-
tion itself indicates.

Nature and art

The third contrast is between art and a work of
nature. Art begins with some modification or
even copy of nature. That plants should grow is
a work of nature, that they should be made to
grow in systematic groupings according to the
color of their flowers is a work of man, is an art.
The products of nature, the stone, the crystal,


the snow-flake, the mountains, the ocean, the
clouds driven by the wind, science supposes, per-
haps incorrectly, to involve neither intelligence
nor skill in their making; the products of man,
the stone hammer, the mirror, the house, the
boat, the sail, the engine, the telegraph, the air-
ship, require both intelligence and skill. The arts
of civilization thus stand in contrast with the
works of nature. When teachers of arts — e.g., of
expression — urge that their pupils "be natural,'*
"follow nature," etc., the injunction is ambigu-
ous; to do so literally would cancel all art; what is
really meant is to be so artful as to conceal the
appearance of art. "To be natural" in any art is
not to be as nature is, but to be as nature ought
to be to satisfy man's purpose.

Colvin^s definition of art

Another definition of art at this point may help
us. Professor Colvin ^ defines art as "every reg-
ulated operation or dexterity by which organized
beings pursue ends which they know beforehand,

* Sidney Colvin, article "Art" in Encydopoedia Britannica,



together with the rules and the result of every
such activity." That the operation should be
"regulated" involves skill, the pursuit of ends
involves intelligence, and the presence of rules
shows the dexterity to be formally guided.

Is teaching an art ?

Now, in the light of these definitions, is teach-
ing an art? Is it an activity? It is. Does it in-
volve intelHgence? It does. Does it involve skill?
It does. Is it a science? It is not, though there
may be a science of teaching. Is it a work of
nature? It is not, but, on the contrary, is a work
of man modifying nature. Has it rules of pro-
cedure? It has, though the poorest practice in
teaching may be leagues behind the best rules.
On the whole, then, we must conclude that
teaching is an art, though the intelligence and
skill it involves may in some cases rank it with
hod-carrying, in others with bricklaying, and
perhaps in a few others with the plans of the


Tufts* definition of fine art

But there is a difference between art and fine
art and our main question was, Is teaching a fine
art? But what is a fine art? Recurring to Prof es-
sor Tufts' article we read that a fine art is ^'an
activity or product of activity which has aesthetic
value or (in the broadest sense of the term) is
beautiful." This second definition directs our
attention to aesthetic value as the distinguishing
mark between art and fine art. But what is the
nature of aesthetic value? We will first take the
standpoint of an observer of a work of fine art
in a studio, or, in the analogous case, of a super-
visor of teaching in the classroom.

The characteristics of (Esthetic value

There are five main characteristics of aesthetic
value possessed by a work of art. First, aesthetic
value is objective; that is, it is there for all, share-
able, universal; it is not purely private and per-
sonal and agreeable to the senses. The fruit that
app>ears painted in "studies of still life" is out
there for all to see, to enjoy, and to realize the


meaning of fruit through space and light effects,
whereas the fruit one ate for breakfast gives only
an individual pleasure. The pride one takes in
owning aesthetic objects is not an aesthetic feeling,
it is the property or ownership feeling; it is not
necessary to own a work of art in order to enjoy

Second, the aesthetic value is intrinsic; that is,
it is disinterested, immediate, contemplative, not
utilitarian, mediate, practical, or even moral.
The frame of the picture and its two dimensions
separate it as a work of art from the practical
world in which we live. An automobile taking its
place in a painting of a city street scene may be
part of a work of fine art, but if it appears in a
catalogue, it loses its aesthetic value in proportion
as it serves the purpose of sale. The viewing of
the Apollo Belvedere as the Greek ideal of man-
hood is aesthetic, allowing it to possess intrinsic
value, but the use of the same to study the physi-
ology of the bodies of the Greeks is not aesthetic
but utilitarian. We do not ask beauty to justify
its existence by doing any of the world's work for
us, but only to represent some ideal to us that we


may repose in it. As Professor Miinsterberg ^
shows, the essence of art is isolation from the
practical world of cause and effect, just as the
essence of science is connection with antecedents
and consequents.

Third, the work of art whose aesthetic value we
feel widens sympathy. In enjoying the work of art
our feelings appropriate the feeling the artist put
into the piece, or something akin to it, our sym-
pathies are enlarged to include the Hf e and mean-
ing of the piece of art. A good painting of a shep-
herd with his sheep and the faithful dog reveals
to us a significance and meaning which the sight
of the real objects often fails to convey. The rea-
son for this is that the artist feels more than we
do in the presence of the experiences of hfe, and,
by selecting and eliminating features, he spreads
on canvas, in light and shade, in form and color,
accentuated suggestions of feeling, meaning, and
significance. Thereafter we return into fife's ex-
periences with heightened susceptibifities. This
is the answer to those practical-minded people

1 H. Miinsterberg, The Principles of Art Education, part i.
New York, 1905.



who say, with one of the characters in Bryce^s
Story of a Floughboy : —

What 's a picture, after all? Merely a shadow of
the real. Why do people Uke paintings, or profess to
like them? Because they Ve lost the use of their eyes;
they can't see Nature. Can any paintings of the sea
match the sea itself? What man in his senses would
shut himself up in a room to look at paintings of the
sky if he could live in country air and look up at the
sky when he liked? All this luxury you've been talk-
ing about is n't a means of helping us to enjoy life;
it's an encumbrance; it's an obstruction; it keeps us
from the sun, it keeps us in a stuffy room when we
might be out of doors. And all this talk about Art
has done as much as anything to hinder real reform.
I told Ruskin that when he was blathering in Fors.
And he came to see it, for he said more than once that
he felt he would never do any good till he stopped
talking and began to work like a man. But, poor
soul! he had n't the courage any more than the rest
of us.

Fourth, in the best art there is a sense of con-
scious self -illusion, as some one has described it.
In viewing a fine portrait of some friend, we seem
to be in his presence again, to feel his spirit, to
share his atmosphere, to realize his ideals, — in


this consists the self -illusion; but we do not break
the sacred silence to ask him questions, even
though we consider it "a speaking likeness," —
in this the self -illusion is conscious. That Zeuxis
deceived the birds with his painting of lifelike
grapes and that Parrhasius deceived even Zeuxis
with his reahstic painting of the curtain, is not
the highest evidence of the skill of those painters;
in those cases the self-illusion was not conscious.
The portrait is selective and heightening in effect,
it could not be mistaken for the original; a col-
ored, life-size photograph is unselective and
"just-so" in its presentation; it might be mis-
taken for the original, but its aesthetic value is
lower than that of the portrait. The Eden
Musee, where death is mistaken for life, does not
stir as high aesthetic emotions as the Metropoli-
tan Museum where life is consciously viewed in
idealized form. We admire the talent shown in
the one, the genius in the other.

Fifth, there is often, not always, an element of
pain or melancholy in the enjoyment of aesthetic
value. It is obvious in the threnody of poetry
and in the minor strains of music. Milton ex-



presses it in // Penseroso. The source of the feel-
ing is not easy to find. The sense of the perfect
disturbs us while it enraptures us. Even the pain
it causes us is a delight which we should not care
to forego, just as Peter, at the moment of realiz-
ing his Master's character, urges him to depart,
though his Master's departure would have
pleased him still less. Perhaps the source of the
feeling is the contrast effect between the ideal of
art and the real of our own experience. As the
ideal begins to harmonize our own ruffled and
unordered feelings, the growing-pains of the soul
arise. Even the soft blues of an Italian sky may
dim the eyes and awaken an inexpressible sad-

Teaching as having (esthetic value

Now, all this seems remote enough from what
our school supervisor or visitor, looking for some
show of art, can see and hear in the classroom.
But the real question is not so much one of actual
practice as one of possible practice. May not the
observed teaching process come to have aesthetic
value? Objective it certainly is. A thing worth


while in itself, having an intrinsic value for itself,
it certainly may be, especially where the ideals of
a liberal in distinction from a vocational training
dominate, where things worth doing are done well
for their own sake without regard to their prac-
tical usefulness. A widening of sympathy will
also result in case the ground covered is not too
familiar and the treatment of the truth and Ufe
involved in the lesson is vital, real, and apprecia-
tive. Even a sense of conscious self -illusion may
be present when the teaching hour simulates the
real original experience; there is no danger of its
being mistaken for it; as when a teacher of Greek
history plays for a time the part of Socrates and
the pupils answer him as they suppose Athenian
youths to have done. Any dramatization or even
vivid word portrayal of past truth and life may
awaken within us a sense of the original reality;
thus the past lives again. In the ideal classroom
living is real, the teaching that reproduces the
racial experience is real, yet both teachers and
pupils recognize that the life of which they speak
is more real than the speaking of it. Regarding
the last point, the sadness provoked by the ideal,


it is to be confessed that, so far, in the develop-
ment of teaching, this sense is aroused more by
the absence than by the presence of the ideal.
Even here, however, the observer may feel the
sharp contrast between hfe as the school ideally
represents it and life as it is, and he may find
himself anticipating with regret the rude awak-
enings awaiting unsophisticated young people.
This is as it should be; the school should present
life at its best, only hinting at the real existence of
the mean and the sordid, and exalting the ideals
of service and sacrifice. To the contemplative
observer the work of some schoolrooms may in-
deed appeal as having aesthetic value because of
the struggUng efforts present to realize even in a
crude way the highest ideals of living.

The characteristics of (Esthetic activity

A fine art, our definition said, was "an activity
or a product of activity which has aesthetic
value." We have considered the characteristics
of aesthetic value and how the teaching process
may come to possess them. Now we must in-
quire concerning the nature of the activity itself


by which works of beauty are produced, with a
view to considering whether the teacher also may
become an artist in his work. From the stand-
point of an observer of a work of art we pass to
that of the producer.

Lack of data

We are handicapped at the outset of this
inquiry by the lack of suitable material upon
which to base conclusions. Artists do creative
work, but they do not tell us how they do it.
Their minds are bent on production, not intro-
spection. We could wish more artists would tell
us how it feels to write a poem, to compose a
piece of music, to carve a statue, to paint a pic-
ture, to design a building, or to beautify a natural
landscape. The introspection upon which such
reports would rest would itself cripple the activ-

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Online LibraryHerman Harrell HorneThe teacher as artist; an essay in education as an aesthetic process → online text (page 1 of 3)