Art as Social
Reframing Critical Thinking in Art Education as a Basis for Altruistic Intent
by James Haywood Rolling, Jr.
Altruism is recognized as “a cultural behavior, well beyond instinctive behavior, and even beyond adaptive social behaviors with respect to evolutionary processes” (Wilson, 1998, p. 29). Yet, if artmaking is a cultural behavior it is one that does not appear at frst “to contribute to the survival of the species” (Wilson, 1998, p. 29). In fact, many deem the arts “as nice but not necessary” (Eisner, 2002, p. xi).
At the same time, artmaking is clearly extant in the survival of all cultures. Tis apparent value gap leaves us with some fundamental questions: First impressions aside, are cultures en masse,or the creation of culture, crucial to the survival of our species?
must we reevaluate the artmaking and design practices that contribute to the creation of culture? I argue that there is a more generalized and significant relationship between artmaking and altruistic intent... and that altruism is a critical operational mode of cognition of the highest order.
In their important argument for art education as a haven for socially just intent, Desai and Chalmers (2007) document how socially responsible art education practices may be misconstrued as either the intrusion of teachers’ personal political agendas (see Kamhi, 2010), an assault upon the professionalism of the art teacher, or an invasion of the harsh realities and indoctrinating ideologies upon the haven of the school day. However if it is in our biobehavioral DNA to make art—usefully described as “the joining together of sounds, movements, objects, utterances, and so forth that are not organically related in nature but that create a whole and meaningful composition in the consciousness of the maker” (Wilson, 1998, p. 32)—then the art we create will also refect “the cultural process by which societies have created their living environments” (Wilson, 1998, p. 32). Given that social response and responsibility are unavoidable in the making of art, isn’t the school day a prime location for learners to go about the work of creating culture? The art classroom welcomes the critical thinker as the agent of culture.