Vision of the Arts at John Adams Academy
John Adams Academy
Visual and Performing Arts
Mission, Values, and Curriculum Statement
Mission of the Fine Arts at John Adams Academy
Our mission is the aesthetic education of JAA scholars: preparing them to experience, appreciate, and create beauty in its many artistic manifestations including visual media, dance, drama, and music. This mission is further focused on John Adams Academy’s tri-fold mission to teach classics, values, and servant-leadership.
Values of the Fine Arts at John Adams Academy
While art is often defined today as “anything you want it to be,” the classical and values-based educational mission of John Adams Academy necessitates a narrower, principle-based approach to the fine arts that harmonizes to established classical western aesthetic philosophy.
Definition of Aesthetics
Aesthetics is the study and appreciation of beauty both in nature and the arts. Modern (approx. 17th-19th century) philosophy identifies aesthetics with the phenomenon that certain objects elicit subjective feelings of ennobling pleasure within educated people.[footnote 1] Classical philosophy, taking the opposite approach, believes beauty to be an objective quality of certain objects which the educated person ought to be trained to appreciate. [footnote 2] The fine arts in the classical to early-modern traditions focused on the creation of works of art (including drawings, paintings, sculpture, buildings, music, drama, and dance) that elicit (or ought to elicit) these feelings of ennobling pleasure in the observer.
Definition of Fine Arts in Classical Education at John Adams Academy
Classically, fine art was defined as the purposeful organization of raw materials into a unified object that embodies the creator’s mental idea/form of beauty. [footnote 3] Plato, the founder of western philosophy, believed art to be a man-made imitation of a temporal thing which in turn imitates the eternal, other-worldly form/ideal of Beauty. [footnote 4] The more practical Aristotle saw art as an idealized imitation of reality that attempts to demonstrate the transcendental forms/principles of beauty that are inherent in individual natural phenomena. [footnote 5] Early medievalist Augustine added that it is the extent to which works of art embody aesthetic form (unity, ordering, rhythm, and symmetry) that determines their beauty. [footnote 6] The modernist Immanuel Kant believed art to be 1) created with the sole purpose of aesthetic contemplation, not to fulfill utilitarian or appetitive functions; 2) recognized as aesthetically meaningful by consensus of the educated; and 3) eliciting feelings of "disinterested" pleasure because of the beauty and meaning it elicits itself, rather than simply being appreciated for social phenomena that it references. [footnote 7] Though other objectives such as personal expression, social advocacy, and originality of execution are often placed before aesthetic richness in the arts of today, at John Adams Academy we seek to restore the classical primacy of idealized beauty in the creation and contemplation of fine art.
Definition and Value of Beauty
For our definition of beauty we do not turn to the artificial world of commercial fashion and societal stereotypes, but instead seek the enduring forms of goodness and truth inherent in the best of nature and humanity. [footnote 8] This kind of beauty is important because it connects with us on an intimate level, lifts our heads to contemplate the eternal, and helps us transcend the every-day world of worry and problems. This kind of beauty focuses on emotions and ideas that uplift us and make life seem more worthwhile.
Definition and Value of Great Art
We believe great art seeks to capture and teach us about this kind of beauty. This kind of art is most likely to be found in the classics that have survived and uplifted people for hundreds or thousands of years. Even when portraying the evil or ugly in the world, great art does so in a way that helps us to see a beauty or purpose in it, therefore redeeming the bad and bringing us comfort and inspiration. The study of great artistic works and the artistic processes that went into making them forms the core of arts curricula at John Adams Academy.
Art that does not qualify as “great” does an inadequate job at leading us to contemplate higher philosophical or metaphysical ideas. It usually falls into one of three categories: Trivial art (sometimes called “Kitsch”) is usually pleasing, but conspicuously lacks the aesthetic and/or philosophical depth of great art. [footnote 9] Ineffectual art, on the other hand, can have “good” or even “great” intentions, but because of problems in its execution, fails at stimulating deep aesthetic and/or philosophical contemplation in the educated observer. Trivial and ineffectual art can be quite popular and even “good,” but are usually not considered rich enough to warrant inclusion in John Adams Academy’s classical arts curriculum.
Debasing art appeals to the cruder drives of mankind rather than the refined intellect or emotions. It usually shows ugly realities of life with no attempt at adapting them to find helpful transcendent meanings, no attempt to contribute to the betterment of society. It promotes the idea that there are no higher purposes or ideals in life. It even promotes the ridicule of such higher ideals and purposes. Because it promotes values contrary to John Adams Academy’s 10 Core Values, debasing art is not justifiable in John Adams Academy’s classical arts curriculum.
Arts Production/Performance at John Adams Academy
Along with the study of exemplary works of great art, a classical fine arts education at John Adams Academy will include opportunities to learn about the artistic process used in creating/performing great works of art and opportunities to create/perform original artistic works in the classical tradition. While this will include training in specific techniques, styles, and/or media, it is definitively the focus on “great art” ideals such as beauty and nobility of purpose that brings these activities into the realm of a classical arts education. The ultimate expected scholar outcome of all fine arts activities at John Adams Academy is to enable scholars to seek for the deeper aesthetic and philosophical values that are to be found both in the contemplation and creation/performance of great art.
Fundamentals of JAA Arts Curriculum
In addition to the academy’s overarching mission and philosophy, [footnote 10] and the fine arts mission and values described above, John Adams Academy fine arts courses derive their content and activities from applicable Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools [footnote 11] and the Core Knowledge Sequence of content and skills. [footnote 12] Because these four main sources of curriculum encompass and support a vast field of possible courses and activities, this section outlines the curricular priorities of all fine arts courses and activities at John Adams Academy.
1. Artistic Perception
Artists have a heightened perception of the human and natural world. They are trained to analyze and interpret details of form and composition to derive educated interpretations of meanings. Scholars likewise, need to be able to correctly interpret the aesthetic “language” of the arts in order to have a meaningful experience with it. Developing these artistic senses and concepts (with their related vocabulary) are a top priority in arts classes and activities at John Adams Academy.
2. Applied Creativity
The arts necessarily function through the dual modes of apprehension and expression, observer and creator. In order to understand and appreciate art, scholars need training and experience on both sides. Artists use highly-developed senses of creativity to address issues of aesthetic inquiry in relevant and meaningful ways through the media of the arts. This involves both a highly disciplined sense of creative problem-solving, as well as finely honed skills in the performance/production of art works.
3. Academic & Cultural Context
Arts is, by definition, a representation of the natural and human world. As such, it serves as a source of information and a form of analysis of the natural and social sciences. As an artifact of a given time and place, works of art themselves are often better understood in their historical and cultural context. Similarly, the elements of design and expression in the arts directly involve the study of math, literature, and other subjects.
4. Aesthetic Valuing
A work of art is also, by definition, an object intended for aesthetic contemplation. In order to participate in the arts, scholars need instruction and practice in understanding, interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, and creating works of art according to the aesthetic principles of the arts disciplines. As these skills develop, scholars will be able to participate in the "great conversation" of great works of art throughout the history of mankind, as well as more fully appreciate the natural beauty and order of our world. Through aesthetic contemplation of great art, their lives will be greatly enriched.
As a by-product of arts education and aesthetic activities, scholars will experience and develop a number of additional benefits. Through the contemplation of true beauty, they will also investigate truth and goodness and build noble character. They will learn effective strategies for accomplishing project-based tasks alone and in teams. They will learn and experience appropriate modes of self-expression channeled towards community improvement. These, and many more skills learned in the arts, will prove invaluable to scholars' in college, career, family, and communities for the rest of their lives.
- See Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790) and Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics (1818-29)
- See Plato, Republic (circ 380 BC), Book III, especially 401-403. Also see C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943)
- Definition derived from “Art,” Syntopicon Vol I, Great Books of the Western World Series, Vol II, Mortimer Adler, ed. (1952)
- See Symposium and Republic (circ. 380 BC)
- See Poetics (circ. 335 BC)
- See Confessions (circ. 400 AD) Bk. 12.3; De Musica xvii. 56; Of True Religion, xxx. 55; City of God, XIX, xiii
- See Critique of Judgment (1790)
- This definition of beauty relates to the ancient Greek word for beauty, kalon, which in addition to its familiar meaning of “pleasing to the senses,” often indicates an ethical judgment of goodness.
- The term “kitsch” applies readily to most commercial art, internet memes, and cartoon characters because they rely exclusively on external social situations to be understood and do not elicit richer metaphysical contemplation in observers. Unfortunately, a lot of art championed by art critics today also fits in this category. (See Roger Scruton’s series of BBC articles: “The strangely enduring power of kitsch” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30439633, “How do we know real art when we see it” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30495258, and “How modern art became trapped by its urge to shock http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30343083.)
- See JAA vision and philosophy: http://www.johnadamsacademy.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=297377&type=d&pREC_ID=685974
- See California VAPA standards in print or at http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/vpastandards.pdf
- See Core Knowledge Sequence in print or at http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/documents/480/CKFSequence_Rev.pdf Please note that Core Knowledge is classics-based curriculum sequence created by the non-profit Core Knowledge Foundation. It should not be confused with the similarly-named Common Core State Standards Initiative.