Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Two Worlds Collide (extensively edited from my unfortunate previous post)

Over a few posts recently I shared my amazement at the precision, power and eloquence of so many writers of the 19th century and previous - qualities that have largely disappeared from writing today. I've since discovered that one of the major reasons for that precision, power and eloquence is due to the type of education that was available in those times - built around what's sometimes called the Trivium, or the Classical three-tiered system of  Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.  Grammar - the building blocks of words and sentences; Aristotelian Logic, which allows you to ascertain the validity and truthfulness of statements; And Rhetoric - the art of persuasive speaking or writing. An important part of education of this type is that it strongly emphasizes how these various elements interact with each other and connect up as a whole to strengthen each other and to render the student clear, precise, and persuasive. Most modern education has instead treated individual subjects as if they're completely separate and have no connection with any of the other subjects being taught. The Classical educational approach has a tendency to create holistically connected students who are fully capable of continuing their own self-education after leaving the school system, whereas modern education tends to leave students bored and underachieving, and to turn them out into the world woefully ill-prepared in terms of critical thinking ability, literacy, and creativity.

So, the Trivium-style curriculum is one thing I've been avidly pursuing recently, through a lot of web searching and a lot of reading. Meanwhile, I'm also digging ever deeper into that massive stack of painting related books shown in my previous post (which has grown somewhat since then). All of these books cover material from the 19th century and previous.

And I began to notice a repetition of certain words and certain ideas across both stacks of books - the painting-related stack and the classical educational stack.  In both I keep running into a strong emphasis on passion, imagination, skill, and intuition - both on the part of artists in the creation of paintings and on the part of students and writers when they create papers or books or essays. In fact the similarities go beyond just that - they also include the idea that a work should be cohesive conceptually - that a single overriding idea should be at the heart of it and should inform each aspect of it - that idea itself often being imaginative or passionate.

I was quite surprised to discover this link between my 2 concurrent lines of inquiry. Originally when I started looking into the Trivium program, I had no inkling that it was connected in any way with the old-school painting approaches I've been investigating. Though as I recall, I did discover the Trivium originally through an Amazon email, so it was probably targeted at me due to my recent searches and purchases there. To be clear though, Amazon didn't send me an email including the Trivium book as a recommended item, but I found it while pursuing a different book they did recommend - though offhand now I don't remember what it was. Oh, yes I do - it was a book about reading the Classics - which books and authors one should read from the literature of the past. So apparently I went on some kind of list at Amazon for people interested in old-school schooling and painting.

As it stands now, my impression is that this type of education, and the societies that approved of and encouraged it - turned out people of a broad and deep education who were very conversant in matters of imagination and passion as well as logic, grammar, and persuasive capability; and in fact those qualities were embraced and nurtured throughout schooling, and likely at home as well, assuming the parents had the same kind of education.

The result of this happy collision - it turns out my 2 lines of interest are actually not as unrelated as I thought, and in fact I'm finding that in reading about the Trivium education system I glean important insights into the way Romantic painters must have thought. As I mentioned in a recent post, the artists were constantly attending lectures and speeches, reading books, and discussing the new ideas in art and in human thought.

And I apologize for my rather old-fashioned turns of phrase in this post - I've been reading all this very old-world stuff, much of it Victorian, and it's hard not to write like that myself just now. Hopefully I get over that, while still increasing my precision, logic and persuasive powers.

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