To start off the year, my colleagues and I found ourselves watching this video yesterday:

…a clip that I’ve seen before, and has almost achieved meme status among the sorts of folks with whom I hang in the digital.

An excerpt from Sir Ken Robinson’s talk:

The Arts especially address the idea of Aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak. When you’re present in the current moment. When you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing. When you are fully alive.

And anaesthetic is when you shut your senses off, and deaden yourself what’s happening. And a lot of these drugs are that. We’re getting our children through education by anaesthetising them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them asleep, we should be waking them up, to what they have inside of themselves.

And some thoughts from Chris Staley’s essay The Hegemonic Eye: Can the Hand Survive:

I am concerned that we underestimate the extent to which our senses are used, how they influence our well-being. The writer Saul Bellow once said, “People are literally dying for something real when day is done.” It is my belief that our lives are becoming increasingly ocular-centric. In other words there are circumstances in our lives that increasingly call upon us to use our eyes at the expense of our other senses. As vision becomes more dominant our interaction with the world becomes flatter and the joy and fullness of our lives is diminished.

Since lately I’ve been rethinking my relationship with Art, maybe I ought to think of my teaching role a little more as waking my students up.  If aesthetic experience is linked to all the senses – or, at least more senses than the ocular – then I guess I’m trying to “wake them up by providing aesthetic experience.”


Aesthetic (adj) [es-thet-ik]:

  1. pertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics.
  2. having a sense of the beautiful; characterized by a love of beauty.
  3. pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality.

Interesting.  Nothing in that definition specific to what we see.  And I never really considered before this morning, two cups of coffee in on the first day of a new school year, that aesthetic and anaesthetic are literally opposites.

But wait a second.  Why are aesthetics a stated curricular goal (see 9.4) only of the arts?  If Robinson is advocating that we wake our students up by providing experiences that are aesthetic… doesn’t every subject matter then have the responsibility to be challenging senses other than the ocular?

Day one.  Here we go.


One thought on “Aesthetic/Anaesthetic

  1. it’s interesting that aesthetics are defined as something opposed to purely intellectual. i never saw it phrased that way, but it makes perfect sense. the question is, how do you teach teenagers intuition and to approach their lives from a non-intellectual place when they have a) been told that the intellectual approach to is the best and indeed only way to succeed and prosper in life and b) how to use a skill that they have most likely never honed in any way?

    so hard. i admire you.

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