Dear Editor,

I have been to the past two commercial exhibitions in the NAEA conventions (2002 and 2003). When I was wandering around in the hall, I felt almost overwhelmed by a colorful flood of catalogues, supplies, exciting conversations, and smiles. The words “material culture” flashed in my mind.

I question if art should be built on top of piles and piles of fancy tools, paper, and technology, or if it should be rooted in simple daily life. Maybe both, but in terms of art education, I hope we can pay more attention to art itself. We need to convince the students that simple and limited materials allow creativity as well as facilitate it. I am concerned that an overwhelming variety of materials could distract the students from exploring the art world, their inner feelings, and creativity.

I cherish the wisdom from Tao Te Ching:

“lights and colors can blind the eyes; sounds can deafen the ears; flavors can dull the taste buds; the pursuit of pleasures can derange minds; love for wealth perverts one’s conduct. Therefore, the sage attends to his inner self, and concerns not the outer appearance.”

I don’t want to devalue materialism, which would be very anti-American, since people here have almost the most abundant variety of products and resources in the world, and consumer culture is dominant. However, I think we also have the responsibility to utilize products and resources most wisely and efficiently, because our global community and the trend of globalization call for this.

As to our art educators, I wish we could inspire students to develop long-term “friendships” with their tools and materials instead of playing with them as toys. According to a Buddhist sutra, “one flower is one world; one sand is one heaven.” Hopefully, we can encourage students to discover and appreciate beauty in every simple and tiny thing, not only through their hands and eyes, but also through their hearts.

Penghua Zhu, M.A.E.

Aidan Montessori School

Washington, DC

Copyright National Art Education Association Mar 2004

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