Paideia: Arts Education

Perhaps your school-desk was alike my school-desk covered edge-to-edge in sketches.  The desk surface, as you know, is an almost perfect blank canvas, a clean slate, a tabula rasa*, of sorts, where knowledge acquired might be reflected eye to mind to hand, to nun who might correct wayward drawing knuckles with a smart, wood-ruler, snap, as was mine snapped, upon occasion.


Holy Bible; Family Rosary Edition, 1957

And there it is, you know, the question: how do we know … by experience, by perception, or, is knowledge innate, after-all, we are creatures designed so that the universe might know itself.  As for myself, by the experience of observing the universe these sixty-five years, I am almost certain that knowledge is bred into our bones; you know, every atom in you, your neighbor, the grass and the bird’s beak is composed of atoms from one, single source, The God, the will, the Word, the Big Bang**, the Pattern Patterning, et cetera … perhaps you are certain of the source, the first cause, the Prime Mover, I am not.  Yet, I am certain, that from the moment of collision, the symbiosis of egg and spermatozoa, the creature makes itself (you) in memory conscious and unconscious, in DNA and by experience.

What the nun’s might have thought of DNA … well, they too followed the books, the traditions old and young, new and ancient, and passed to we clean-scrubbed, rose-cheeked children all that was in their nature, in their charge to teach.  What we learned, well, I cannot speak for others, yet, for myself, I learned of pictuary and statuary, of the great themes of Classive Civilization (knowledge, conduct, governance), I early participated in the Great Conversation (the habitual consideration of grandeur, of greatness).  Each little sketch was a response to Raphael or Leonardo or Velasquez or whichever artist served to illustrate a story, to illuminate a text, to enlarge imagination and refine taste.

artist unknown; “Saint Michael Statuette”; XX A.D.

Yes, of course, I learned the text, often by rote, a most excellent fashion of learning, memorization and recital; often I was awarded the santo, my favorite, a Saint Michael, polychromed, you know the type.  Much of the rote is yet retained in memory, alike the natural craft of walking, when learned, remembered, as I learned technique of phrase and meter, of rhyme in verse, and remembered.  Recently, a friend and I estimated that of my three-thousand-some verses, over a-thousand I have to heart … well, to atom, perhaps an atom smaller than the tip-of-a-pin, or, alike the design-in-the-mind, alike the stars-in-the-sky, a patterned potentiality unlimited.

And all of that to say: I learned my craft in the lap of the Maters at the School of Athens, from a book upon a desk at the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Detroit.  Unfortunately, here I must elaborate, as so many of you, in poverty to your detriment, know neither the Masters of Art and Literature (Homer to Shakespeare to Polykleitos to Fraser to Salemi), nor the School of Athens, the techne, the science of knowledge pictured most fully by Raphael of Urbino.  So much I would like to share of Urbino, Raphael’s father, the Duke, the Court, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier from which I learned more of civility and good behavior than ever I learned from the Bible, its damnations, sins, punishments, et cetera, though, in truth, from the Bible I did learn truth, Truth, and excellent history … that courteous, “Courtier” sharing shall need to wait upon another afternoon.  Today, thoughts and recipes of Arts Education, of what is most serviceable to a Nation, what is most natural to Man, most rewarding for an Artist.

Ramon Llull (c. 1232 – 1316); Tree of Knowledge; c. 1295

Where to begin.  We could begin upon my desk-top, the tones of Sister Mary-Mary’s voice droning my ear to inattention, the world-witnessing illustration of the book into which I was drawn, there to live in other places, you might say, “other times”, though, in truth, I lived into an artist’s mind, that place more real to man than a kitchen or a street or a woods, places without permanence, things alike ourselves composed of patterning atoms, changeable, mutable, places different than the pictured mind pictured in color and line, a matter god-like, higher in order than things, a pictured-idea abiding and True, almost permanent.  You have seen pictuary, pictures in museums and in books, you know of what I speak, you have entered the idea, the mind of the artist, your fellow man, and have enjoyed that intimacy whose only equivalent is sex, well, sex that gives pleasure and intelligence, and permanence.

Now, see this, the practiced copies upon my school-desk … what a jumble, drawing over drawing, line following penciled line; here, this master of form; there, that master of composition, imitated, occasionally, with some slight improvement, though nothing original, a simple scholarship.  Then, in under-school, a mere bachelor of art, all ambition, little skill, less understanding, a talent that might blossom into … always, in humility, I was made to wash my desk at day’s or week’s end … Sister Mary-Mary and the rest thought best to allow God’s child to be as God intended, but clean upon the ceremony of each new day.

artist unknown; The Book, Saint John the Baptist, Walter de Merton [college founder] in Creation; 1465, Merton College, Oxford

We could begin upon my cluttered desk in pictures pictured, though better, I think, to begin in the Middle Ages, in the early days of universal education, the rise of the universities, circa 1100.  As you know, those are days lost in a thick fog, the fog we name, The Dark Ages, not because they were dark, no, they were light, joyful, full, hopeful, they were days when people, we Classives, were ambitious of knowledge, wisdom, goodness, truth, of all that might enlarge our souls, that might strengthen our lives and ease our days.  Then, a time unlike our time, this time, these days of financial waste, debauchery, distraction in university education.  Yes, for contrast and comparison let us begin in The Dark Ages from which the universities are borne.

A Preface:

Andrea di Bonaluto (active 1343 – 1377); Triumph of Saint Tomas & Allegory of the Arts and Sciences; 1365 – 68, Basilica di S. Maria Novella

Aristotle’s Lyceum, Plato’s Academy, Zeno’s Stoa, were not universities, though, I would say, “Aristotle teaches us, while Hegel, while Marx, while Freud preach to us.”; I would say that, “the ancients’ purpose is different from the mod purpose”: that ancient “education” is formed of the Latin, ex, “out”, and of ducere, “to lead”; that the ancient education was purposed to, “bring up” to, “lead forth” to, “draw up schooling, learning, wisdom”, a purpose, a thing different from the progressive program of “telling, directing, imposing” as has become common in low-school and university instruction, a preaching that grows each day more trite.

The “university”, in the first instance, intends, “universal”. “University”, in The Dark Age, intended a meaning alike, “incorporate”. And, the “colleges”, from the Latin, collegium (praetors, tribunes, augers, et alia) are a people “selected together”, of a same type toward a similar purpose.  And what was incorporate in the college of a Classive university: the Greek wisdom, the Latin, catholic faith

Yes, all universities are born of the Church, of (Saint Gregory) Pope Gregory VII’s 1079 Papal Decree which ordered the establishment of regulated cathedral schools.  Why schools.  Because Gregory’s Decree required weekly Mass attendance, Masses which wanted clerics, priests, et alia to conduct the Ritual, the interpretation and offering of God’s Words, and the sharing of worldly wisdom.  You might like to know: Gregory’s Decree inspired the great churches; id est, if all we children-of-God were to weekly learn of God, of Goodness and Truth, churches, many, many churches need be built within walking distance, and this, as-much-as any consideration, plan or accident, formed the urban fabric of our civilization, formed our current, and sometimes yet vibrant tradition in pictuary and statuary.

“Emperor Justinian and Retinue”; VI A.D., Basilica of San Vitale, Rivenna

Of the intellectual fabric: true philosophy, that concomitant of “Nature, Morals, Metaphysics”, a consideration of the best that had been “thought, said, done”, was known by the wisdom of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolmey (not Alexander’s half-brother, Macedonian General, Egyptian Pharoah, but the scientist-philosopher-historian of Alexandria, Egypt), et alia, and the necessity of lawyers … “lawyers” you ask: Yes, to interpret Justinian (Roman) law, the Code of Justinian.  Here, should mention that Justinian I (485  – 562 A.D.) was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire whose codification of Roman Law continues in use, here-and-there, even in the early days of our New Orleans. 

Likely, Mary nursing the Infant Jesus; III A.D., Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome

And then, I would like to dilate on Belisarius (c.500 – 565), General, Eastern Roman Empire, who strengthened the Western Roman Empire, and if he had not been by the envious opposed, might have saved the Western Empire from falling to Islam, beginning, 622, the true cause and correct dating (in my opinion) of the Fall of Rome, West (Hispania, Africa, Gallia, Italia, later, Britannia and the other provinces).  Why this 622-plus dating: There was a Rome before the Caesars, and there was a Rome after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the Last Caesar, in 476 (though the Fuhrer and the Czars later claimed the title, “Caesar”).  The 476 date is an inaccurate convenience.  In truth: “In 1453, the Roman Empire ceased to be; in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  So much to tell, the whole of which would require a book … education in the East, in the West, of Islam inspired by Aristotle, Islam’s fading to darkness, the Crusades to save the Eastern Roman Empire (mostly, 1095 – 1291), the flight, the diaspora of Greek-Romans to Italy bringing with them Classive wisdom (until and just after 1453, the death of Constantine XI*** in defense of Roman Constantinople from Islamic invasion), the growth of learning by the enrichment of Greek scholarship (the Renaissance), the slow growth and official founding of universities:

Raphael (1483 – 1520); “Virgin and Child Studies”; 1507

c.1150 Paris,

1180 – 1190 Bologna,

1200 – 1214 Oxford,

1209 – 1225 Cambridge

… and all the rest.

Some few more details might be helpful to understanding:

Early at universities, students and teachers shared power in administration, courses, degrees, even fining teachers for poorly delivered lectures.  Much as today, a Master’s degree allowed teaching at universities, a Bachelor’s degree allowed teaching at lower schools.  Grammar, logic, rhetoric, our Classive “Trivium”, comes to us from Plato’s Dialogues (as for myself, I would prefer the Paideia … yet, there we are).  Saint Thomas Aquinas delimited knowledge, knowledge by Experience, knowledge by Faith – the knowledge by “Faith”, the belief necessary to claim understanding of a Pollock painting, a manner of metaphysics, unscrupulous, as is much in the progressive university, not the least, the financial ruin by imposed debt and worthless degrees.  In all, the university is today much as it was 800 years ago, and is, with the Catholic Church, among the few institutions we inherit from The Middle Ages. 

Raphael (1483 – 1520); Bridgewater Madonna; c. 1507

Well then, what of drawing on desks, the education of an artist.  You might recall, the young Michelangelo Buonarroti was initiated into the Court of the poet-politician, the Magnificent Lorenzo de Medici, and, as was mentioned, Raphael Sanzio da Urbino was educated in the Court of Federico da Montefeltro.  Both artists would not have been as they were if not engaged at Court in the Great Conversation, that dialogue we Classives enjoy amongst ourselves, that review of the best which has been thought, said, done in the Beautiful, the Good, the True, that wisdom now everywhere ridiculed, diminished, debunked within the compass of university influence.  As for myself, in this dialogue with you, a bunking, a rebunking of sense, in contrast to envious, witless debunking bunkum, the sine qua non, the “essential condition” of progressive, contemporary, medieval universities. 

In truth, an artist cannot create more than an artist understands, cannot express more than is by the artist known, yes, even to emotion.  Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo are unthinkable if uneducated in “the best that has been thought, said, done”, The Great Conversation of the Beautiful, the Good, the True.  Today’s artists, as I’ve no need of reciting to you, are uneducated, incapable of speaking anything but babble, you know, the bah-bah-bah which is the infant’s call for feeding, the root of, “barbarian”. 

Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574); Staint Luke Painting the Virgin; 1569 – 70

Earlier, mentioned “Paideia”, the bringing-up of refinements intellectual, moral, physical, the drawing-out by example of poetry, arts, history, geometry, the formation of the Greek, Athenian in us all.  Paideia: that form of education which developed, and often invented, our disciplines in sciences, in arts, in technologies, that accorded to we American Athenians the example of Phidias, Pericles, Plato, and all the rest, all the firsts of our type.  We are Athenian in ascendence.  It is by Paideia, more than by the Trivium, that you are Classive; by paideia in tradition, more than by progressive training, you are civilized. 

Just now, tradition opposes training, the university opposes civilization; just now, the artist is not in dialogue with the best that has been thought, said, done in the Beautiful, the Good, the True.  So, there are no Michelangelos, Raphaels, Leonardos, and but few of the lower ranks who might renew our Classive civilization.  And, the foolish Republicans haven’t a clue of why they lose. 

A few more paragraphs before closing this first of what will likely be five essays crafted to outline a re-forming of arts education.  This paragraph, a brief scan of arts schools, to place yourself in history:

The Academia di San Luca (the Academy of Saint Luke), Rome; soulful; loosely founded, 1577; formally founded, 1593; yet active; the Compagnia di San Luca, the predecessor, was founded in 1478.

artist unknown; Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child in the Presence of Raphael; c. 1525, Accademia di San Luca, Rome

The Academy of Saint Luke was dedicated to the Patron Saint of Artists, Saint Luke, who, by plausible tradition, we know to be a painter of icons, notably, of the Virgin Mary; who by textual evidence we know to be an excellent historian, more Herodotus than Thucydides, a historian who knew, we assume, some few of the Disciples; an author who composed over one-quarter of the New Testament.  Professors of the Academy included Bernini, Canova, Thorvaldsen … Poussin, Le Burn, Pannini … and our own, Randolph Rogers, sculptor of our Capitol Building’s “Columbus Doors”. 

The École des Beaux-Arts (the School of Fine Arts), Paris; artful; the predecessor, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, founded 1648; yet active, though diminished; representative of other, monarchical and national arts academies.

The School of Arts, Paris, preserved the ancient, formal (as in “form”), Classive tradition of the allied arts, pictuary, statuary, architecture, graphics.  And, by the ancient disciplines of techne and of episteme****, contemporary challenges in civic art were answered, answers that allowed we Americans “The City Beautiful”, Classive Washington, D.C, and likely, the meaningful beauty of your hometown.  Our artists of the School include Barnard, Fraser, MacMonnies, Saint Gaudens, and Cox, Eakins, Sargent, and Hunt, Maybeck, McKim, J.R. Pope, et alia.          

Lothar Schreyer (1866 – 1966); Saint Mary in the Moon; 1923, costume for Bauhaus theatre

The Staatliches Bauhaus (the Building House), Weimar, Dessau, Berlin; offal; 1919 – 1932; shall stand-in for Progressive, materialist arts academies independent, in collegium, and of universities.

The Building House is the failed, illiberal, German, industrial design experiment that created the ugly, inhumane, International Style now everywhere surrounding us, a style privileging machine, mechanical practice over humane purpose, a style ill-conceived by Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Kandinsky, Klee, et alia, eager activists who, for the most part, fled to these United States, infecting our Classive Liberty with Germanic, Progressive Zeitgeist, that Hegelian, inevitable “Spirit of the Times”, a nonsense that the great Alexander von Humboldt saw through, and debunked.  Ah… so much I would like to share of the Limits of State Action, of his brother Wilhelm, of Bishop Berkeley, of immaterialism, of “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way”, of translatio imperii and translatio studii, and Berkeley California … yes, we might later fit-in the university of Berkeley California, an excellent example of diminishment.   

Yet here, to conclude this essay, a reflection, a gloss upon Saint Luke, the Virgin Mary, the Catacombs of Priscilla, and Raphael.  Notice in the illustrations (above), the fresco pictuary of the Virgin Mary upon the walls of Priscilla’s Catacombs; of Raphael’s drawing of the Virgin and Child (did Raphael know this picture when Inspector of Antiques for Pope Leo X) and the other of his pictured Madonna’s; see Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child while the pictured Virgin looks beyond Saint Luke to Raphael, observing, behind; and there, see Saint Luke pictured by Vasari, author of Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects); you will recognize the female anatomical feature mechanized by Lothar; and this, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Oculus at the Basilica of Saint Mary’s, Alexandria, an image upon which I gazed this past Sunday when at Mass, when in contemplation I drew in my mind these essays, much as I drew upon the blank desk-top in Sister Mary-Mary’s class.  Seems I have little changed these fifty-five years, reveling when I should be attending, attending when I should be reveling.*****   

Herman T. Gernhardt Glass Company; Immaculate Heart of Mary Oculus; c.1895, Saint Mary’s Church, Alexandria

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* Tabula rasa: “blanked tablet”, in English, commonly translated, “clean slate”, alike a virgin, black-slate board; in truth, the “tabula rasa”, the wax writing board (tablet) by Roman’s employed to record words, was smoothed by warming, an erasing when full.

** Current estimates by fickle scientists claim a “Big Bang” banged, occurred, some 13.7 billion years ago, but, they don’t know.   

*** Constantine XI died, 29 May 1453, the day Constantinople fell: His last words, as they come to us, “Rome is fallen, and yet, I live.”; then, to be indistinguishable from the common soldier, Constantine divested himself of stately, imperial ornaments, led the last of the Romans in a final charge; all were killed.

**** Techne, a term of philosophy, refers to “making” or “doing”.  Technē is the skill, a knowledge particular to a craft (the practice of literature in its several forms, the practice of pictuary, statuary, et cetera, each to its own rules, its unique necessities).  The corresponding, dual term, epistēmē, refers to a knowledge of principles and purposes (common to verse, to pictuary, to whichever art, et cetera). Each term names a knowledge necessary to creation: the one, “techne”, material; the other, “episteme”, immaterial, “spiritual”, you might say.

***** Just now I should have been attending to the portrait medal of the philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, foremost in aesthetics this past century.  The medal, the Scruton Prize, for the Common Sense Society, an international society of scholars whose model of faculty and fellows, of scholarship, will likely do much to re-form, to re-model education …   

… just now, occurs to me: the Greek sounding of a baby in fit, was, “bar-bar-bar”, as mentioned, the onomonopedic root of, “bar-bar-ian”, those whose language of thought was childish … seems to me, the progressive’s language of thought is “bah-bah-bah” in whine, fit, want, that the progressive might be correctly termed, bahbahs, “bah-bah-ians”.

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