An aspiring artist friend and I enjoy occasional conversations about art and aesthetics. One on-going philosophical conversation has to do with â€œwhat is art?â€ This, in the context of how current and emerging technologies are changing the practices, if not the nature, of the work of the artist. For example, a couple of days after moving into our new home I met the neighbor. When I asked him what he did for a living he replied, â€œIâ€™m a graphic artist.â€
I asked, â€œOh, what medium do you usually use?â€
He looked at me like I had a third eye growing out of my forehead before replying, â€œComputer.â€
At my son’s wedding I chatted with the photographer and shared with him a comment I’d made recently to my friend related to photography. I’d said, “Camera lens filters are dead.” With digital cameras, everyone “fixes” photographs on Photoshop. He laughed and said that the worst part of his job was spending more time on the computer than actually taking photos. Indeed, he confirmed that now all the “filters” he uses on photographs are on his computer!
Recently my friend said, â€œI’m also starting to see less and less of a need in the graphic design industry for actual traditional art skills. Why bother drawing something when you can skillfully fake it using filters, posterizations, and all the little goodies you can apply with Photoshop?â€
My response was, â€œI think I can answer that. The answer is: you can’t fake it. Traditional art skills (“old school”) like drawing, sketching, developing a palette, sculpting in 3-D with messy clay—-getting your hands dirty in other words, is how one acquires “artistry” through learning the fundamentals of line, shape, tone, light, dimension, color, etc.
If you don’t understand the “nature” of art you’ll never be great (and I doubt you’ll ever be “good”).
All you have to do is visit some of those “artists” sites on the web. You’ve seen some of those where what people put up is amateurish and junk, and then you visit Don Marco’s site, the â€œMaster Crayon Artist,â€ and you realize the difference. Marco “understands” the disciplines of the artist and he can create (real) art using crayons, while an amateur can’t produce anything worth framing no matter what set of fine oil paint he uses.
As we’ve said before, it’s not the tool, it’s the artist. There are only a few paths to becoming an artist, and they all demand acquiring an â€œunderstandingâ€ of art and the disciplines of the artist. Photoshop may merely be another tool for the artist to do what he or she already knows how to do; or know enough about what they WANT to do but may not be able to do otherwise.â€
I suspect that the above rationale may apply to the question of â€œwhy should I go to seminary to learn to be a pastor or Christian educator when I can just do ministry in my congregation now?â€ As with the artist with his craft, I donâ€™t think you can â€œfake ministry.â€ At least, not for long before it becomes evident that you donâ€™t really understand it. Like any profession, ministry requires understanding about the nature of the work, its practices and disciplines, and the formation of the person. Itâ€™s the difference between a true artist and a perpetual novice, the professional and the hack.
Admittedly no one learns everything they need to know about ministry in seminary (Iâ€™ve already talked about its limitations here). But the seminary experience does provide some things that cannot be learned elsewhere. The most important of those things are related to the fundamentals of the vocation. The educational dilemma here becomes answering the question: what are the fundamentals that seminaries should teach? And that dilemma becomes a problem when there is confusion about what constitutes the fundamentals that the seminary should focus on teaching, and which things about ministry should be left up to the student to learn from their congregations. Those are important curricular questions every seminary needs to answer.
Date posted: Monday, August 20th, 2007 4:10 pm | Under category: curriculum, philosophy, technology and education, vocation
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