In response to the French Revolution, the German writer and philosopher Freidrich Schiller wrote a series of letters entitled ‘On the Aesthetic Education of Man’ (1794). Appalled by how the high-minded political values of liberty, fraternity and equality had degenerated into the violence of the ‘Reign of Terror’ (1993-4), Schiller argued that any political education of citizens needed to be preceded by something more basic – an education into the realm of feeling and sensibility that would provide the true basis for any genuine lived community. Aesthetics was positioned then as a vital educative force that prepared an essential ground for ethical action.
This paper shifts the terms of Schiller’s thesis. Instead of considering the capacity of art and aesthetics to shape aspects of inner experience and the wider world, I want to consider how art and aesthetics are themselves educated by contemporary regimes of logical-mathematical being and understanding. If Schiller interprets aesthetics through the lens of politics, contemporary educational initiatives interpret art and aesthetics in terms of the machinations and affordances of logically managed data. While art and aesthetics have always borne a relation to the field of systematic abstraction that numbers represent, something new is afoot, and it affects precisely a conception of education. For our purposes, it affects how we conceive the nature of art education, which is now increasingly conceived in terms of sets of discrete and equivalent competencies and transferable capacities (project development, imagination, communication, teamwork, etc.) that can be clearly mapped to the requirements of the workplace. The value of an art education is becoming cast in terms of its abstract equivalence – its capacity to be applied elsewhere. While these changes are affecting education generally, they have particular implications for the traditional self-understanding of art education as a critical, qualitatively particular and holistic space.