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Setting standards for arts seems more like science

The Spokesman-Review

The following editorial appeared in Monday’s Tri-City Herald.

The notion of setting standards for proficiency in the arts strikes us as a rather inartistic approach to education.

A proposal by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has set forth 60 criteria to judge art, music, theater and dance.

These tests will allow for different grade and skill levels. They also cross the boundaries often set by language barriers. This is good given the universal appeal of art and music.

However, standardizing art makes it less like art and more like science.

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning has received some criticism for taking subjects that are traditionally considered a science (like math) and giving it an artistic twist. At least scoring the WASLs – where defending the answer is as important as a correct answer – feels a little like an art form.

The proposed arts assessment turns the tables the other way by taking art and essentially making it into a science.

We depend on science to be measurable and predictable. That is contrary to the very essence of art. We depend on art to be expressive and interpretive.

Art is interpreted by the artist and interpreted again by the recipient. Johnny’s doodles may not qualify as “art” to anyone but his mother, but you can go on eBay and purchase “art” that is painted by an elephant that looks remarkably like Johnny’s doodles. Maybe the only real difference is in the marketing.

Another example of individual appreciation for art is the practice of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah.

Tradition holds that King James was so moved by the majesty of the performance, literally and figuratively, that he stood, and once the king stands, everyone in the room is obliged to follow suit. Thus the tradition was born.

Still others say that the king was bored with the whole production and stood to leave. Did he love it or hate it – and either way, does that change the artistic value of the piece?

All ballerinas don’t need to jump to exactly the same height to be artists. And if they do all perform to the same standard, where is the art in that?

Does knowledge of the musical Circle of Fifths make one a musician? Does lack of that knowledge prevent one from composing music or playing by ear?

Art by definition is expressive and open to interpretation. To set a threshold on that expression is to put a damper on the creative process.

To measure art, it must be compared to a standard. Although now widely recognized as a great artist, Vincent Van Gogh certainly didn’t meet the standard of his day.

We have to wonder if Van Gogh could have passed an artistic assessment test. If not, is he truly an artist?

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