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Art: More Than Just a Way to Make Beautiful Things


“Art is in every society; it is not just ubiquitous, but systemic,” noted Professor James Haywood Rolling, Jr. to a Fordham audience during his presentation for the Graduate School of Education’s recent winter lecture: “Natural Rights, Human Response: Creative Activity as a Catalyst for Social Innovation.” Sharing insights from his broad perspective as an expert in art, teaching, and educational leadership, Rolling emphasized that making art not only allows people to express themselves, but it is also fundamentally essential to what makes us human.

GSE Dean Virginia Roach and James Haywood Rolling, Jr.

More specifically, research shows us how humans have created works of art to illuminate and imagine possibilities; and, sheltered society’s art treasures during the world’s numerous artistic and industrial revolutions to preserve them for future generations. Thus, art is something much more than just a useful language or a way to make beautiful things; creativity throughout history has generated systems truly significant to society’s development.

This development happens not just among adults, but also among children, through the art and structures they create. Rolling illustrated this idea by highlighting research contained in GSE Assistant Professor David Rufo’s article: “Building Forts and Drawing on Walls: Fostering Student-Initiated Creativity Inside and Outside the Elementary Classroom,” published in Art Education.

GSE Assistant Professor David Rufo

Consequently, according to Rolling, by “making marks” (creating original art), “making models” (creating systematic understanding via art), and “making special” (creating new or unique concepts using art), humans are singularly able among all living creatures to cooperate in large groups and work to avoid conventions that limit observation and originality. He summarized it this way: “Perhaps the most crucial and unacknowledged of all natural rights is the right to signify meaning—to signify one’s lived experience, affinities, aspirations, beliefs, and cultural values as ideas worth spreading.”


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