Democratizing Art


I have been an artist and a teacher all my life. I studied art at Parsons School of Design, art education at New York University and worked in the New York City public system, in high school, teaching applied fine arts in many forms in colleges to teenagers, many of who taught me as much as I taught them. I worked for twenty years on a wide range of projects, including public art, educational designs, interdisciplinary structures, and the day-to-day work at creative and difficult New York City schools. I was always driven to bring art to my students and my students to art.

I taught teenagers for twenty years, experiencing a reprehensible absence of art in education. The journey with my students was a developing language. Not visually apparent, they suffered an aesthetic poverty not knowing how to access their ability to create. Our work became a reconciliation of imagination. In the words of Antoine De Saint Exupery from The Little Prince, “There was nothing in his appearance that suggested a child lost in the middle of the desert a thousand miles from any inhabited territory.” I guided my students to understand their diverse reciprocity with everything in the universe. I believe that being curious and creating from that source is a living civil right. Being educated in art languages gives humans access to share information, to question the information and to shape it as individual contexts have unique patterns of being in the world.


Art can serve as teaching and learning models for describing the phenomena of creative processes and living systems. Through much of the history of Western science and education, practitioners have maintained that only things that can be measured and quantified can be expressed in educational models. This approach has excluded Art from the core curriculum of our educational system. This shift in thinking into holistic and ecological models can unfold more forms of assessment besides standardized testing. The Arts can be understood as a necessary relationship in the context of being educated. Guiding our urge to self organize is a civil right as we are dynamically developing as we are living and we are driven by our intrinsic desire to sustain life by living during continual change. It is our working process of building and developing self reliance and confidence. Creating actively teaches us how to participate in the billions of diverse relationships in nature. The sunrising alerts us to begin a day of purpose. Without it we are fearful in an already unsettling flow of natural changes. Making things is our sustainable human technology, our creative position in the universe.


Art is seen in our culture as a part separate from the whole core structure of education. I knew that art outside of the core of learning created incoherence. Not having art as part of a whole educational system was unethical. I linked this to a lack of development in creative abstract thinking skills with young people as I saw it expressed as frustration and sorrow. I believe that human behavior in general which is self or globally destructive as an incoherence with the lineage of our natural systems including our place within it. I began to develop curriculum directly linked to the local and global connections within the universe. It was an open system, structured form, where everyone could see themselves as possibilities of creating change by simply expressing it their own diverse perspective. This did not exclude the learning of qualitative and quantitative information and practice of skills as processes. What I formed was an evolving structure of learning. It did however have to fit into a western system and was therefore only considered an art course. My work was not consistent with standardized testing and the coursework leading towards its culmination. The main goal in high school education in the United States dates back to the factory model during the turn of the century. It continues to be in the form of a grid without cycles of life but mechanistic resolve. Our system however does have tremendous potential to change if guided into our new era of holistic thinking.


Excluding the arts in education has systematically and deliberately perpetuated a particular fear, which is an inherent human characteristic of the unknown. It builds on the helplessness discouraging caring for oneself, thus living in a symptom of reliance on external systems. My students had not been educated in systems thinking such as determining the physical and abstract structures and infrastructures of how things work in nature. I believe that the foundation of knowing this originates in developing our human symbol systems which we evolved and adapted into 40,000 years ago. While all human beings have the ability to basically, read, write and measure space we are not sure how our communication skills originate culturally or even genetically. Communication is a foundation of growth for our species.

For many years, I have seen hierarchies of self expression transform into self and external aggression. I link this to an absence and need for intuit diversity in creating. development of abstract thinking relationships at a young age. This means to include the organization of acoustic, visual, verbal and written skills of inquiry and how they interact and not replace each other. From James Hunter’s On The Other Side Of Sorrow, on the nature and people in the Scottish Highlands, he quotes John Murdoch from 1883. ” The language and lore of the highlanders being treated with despite has tended to crush their self-respect and to repress the self-reliance without which no people can advance.” Frantz Fanon describes his term inferiorisation. ” It belittles practically everything about a colonized people. Not just their language, but their entire culture, music, their traditions- all those things, in short, which render them distinctive- are scorned, derided, denigrated And those individuals who together constitute that same community have their self esteem diminished, their self-confidence eroded.”


My goal has been for youth to understand their connections with everything in the universe. F. David Peat writes, In Lighting the Seventh Fire: “Western education predisposes us to think of knowledge in terms of factual information, information that can be structured and passed on through books, lectures, and programmed courses only. Knowledge is seen as something that can be acquired and accumulated, rather like stocks and bonds. By contrast, within Indigenous world the act of coming to know something involves a personal transformation. The knower and the known are indissolubly linked and changed in a fundamental way. Indigenous science can never be reduced to a series of facts or a database in a supercomputer, for it is a dynamic and living process, an aspect of the ever-changing, ever-renewing process of nature.” For Arne Naess, ecological science, concerned with facts and logic alone, cannot answer ethical questions about how we should live. For this we need ecological wisdom. Deep ecology seeks to develop this by focussing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These constitute an interconnected system. Each gives rise to and supports the other, whilst the entire system is, what Naess would call, an ecosophy: an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony.


Creativity leads to peace. Developing ones creativity is an ancient human development allowing the deciphering of basic geometrical shape of all matter. When working with kids, I realized that development focused on the fundamental human properties of problem solving in verbal, visual, written, acoustic and numerical arrangement of space in time in natural systems. Evolution requires experience in time for organisms to develop and grow. Growth is the process of an individual growing organically; a purely biological unfolding of events involved in changing gradually from a simple to a more complex level. Western learning parameters were discouraging coherence with nature not addressing the need for interaction, connection and unification which has been a constant and unchanged characteristic in human existence. Art is a practice of the desire for self-reliance while in bartering relationships within the universe.


Images represent two types of space: physical and conceptual space.They are microcosms of living communication systems embodying schemata, interdependent, active, continuous and emergent elements of cognition. They contain information extracted from various levels of living systems such as individual organisms, photons, strings, particles, DNA, supernovae, organizations, ecosystems, the Earth and the solar systems and galaxies. They serve as visual models of relationships and can help explain the variety with which things work, as well as how many types of things are thought to exist and the nature of these existences. Making art is is an ecosystem and living systems process. Living Systems are creative processes which self organize taking the time of gradually adapting to current conditions of environmental change, continual motion, and to other living systems. Living systems foster and maintain suitable conditions for themselves by helping to create an environment to sustain themselves. They depend on relationships and their capacity for communication and an exchange of information or energy. Making art is a human sustainable action for maintaining conditions in the human community thus a synchronicity with earths systems. Communicating art transforms meaning into ecological thinking of patterns and processes by which nature sustains life.