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Creative Activity – Empathy

February 21, 2009

From the book The Divine Proportion – a study in mathematical beauty by H. E. Huntley

“[This] deep joy has been thought by some to be the principal aim of education – more, the chief end of human life. In The Education of the Whole Man, L. P. Jacks writes;

What then is the vocation of the whole man? So far as I can make out, his vocation is to be a creator; and if you ask me, Creator of what? I answer – creator of real values…. And if you ask me what motive can be appealed to, what driving power can be relied on, to bring out the creative element in men and women, there is only one answer I can give; but I give it without hesitation–the love of beauty, innate in everybody, but suppressed, smothered, thwarted in most of us….

This inborn love of beauty, our human heritage, must find expression if we are to be happy. If the hunger for beauty remains unsatisfied, the effects are seen in loss of physical and mental health, so deep is the need. We now approach the final stage in the argument of this chapter. It underlines a truth which it is important that all students of mathematics should understand, but (it is to be feared) very few do. If it could be expressed in one word, that word would be empathy. The German equivalent is Einfühlung–feeling into.”


As art teachers (still in the classroom, with the slidesmachine) we always come back to the old masters of our european tradition to exemplify this quality. When the students through their practice start to know that place in themselves, they also recognize it in the artwork, no matter what time or place it comes from. It is not one single thing though, not one specific emotion, it can not be put in a box. The image bearing this quality can itself be violent, or soft, clean and simple, or very rough… But there is always a balance, a presicion to it, that is in the mark itself, the composition, the gesture, both the detail and the whole.

It is a great privilege to keep showing these slides to our students, to have to notice and verbalize   again and again what this quality is. To try and take them into this contact and empathy that we feel and that move us to teach drawing.


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