The Challenge of Art to Psychology

Seymour B. Sarason

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Artistic activity is universal in young children. Why does this activity diminish dramatically with the passing years? Why do most older children and adults come to regard themselves as uncreative or unartistic? In this eloquent and passionate book, a distinguished psychologist argues that all human beings are born with the capacity to organize and express their unique vision of world in some creative fashion, but that society extinguishes this capacity through cultural values that subtly but powerfully exert influence in and out of our schools.
Seymour B. Sarason contends that our culture does not place any premium on the artistic creativity of young children, preferring to focus on reading, writing, numbers, and objective thinking as necessary for the good life. Children are taught that artistic expression is a talent that few possess and that there is an insurmountable gulf between the accomplishments of the great artists who have this talent and the output of everyone else.  et, says Sarason, artistic expression need not be obliterated, and, if appropriately encouraged, individuals who have never before given evidence of creative talent can learn to participate in artistic activity. Sarason describes how artist Henry Schaefer-Simmern and poet Kenneth Koch taught their respective skills to the mentally retarded, institutionalized individuals, to black and Hispanic children in a ghetto school, and to old, ill, depressed, uneducated people in a nursing home. While Sarason recognizes that not all people are capable of developing into great artists, he demonstrates convincingly that all people can and should derive satisfaction and a sense of growth from some level of activity in an artistic medium. This, says Sarason, must be one of the goals of both education and psychology.

"With Socratic patience and subtlety, Seymour Sarason argues that a psychology without art is not worth pursuing, and an education without the arts is barren."—Howard Gardner, Harvard Project Zero, Harvard University

"This very inspiring book should be required reading for every art educator. The eminent psychologist Seymour Sarason, author of 28 books, eloquently addresses the importance of artistic activity for all human beings. The book brings the wisdom of Henry Schaefer-Simmern's 1948 masterpiece, The Unfolding of Artistic Activity, in a powerful new way to the present day audience of art educators. . . . For those of us involved in education, Sarason gives us pause for thought in his account of education's detrimental effect on people's conceiving of themselves as capable of making art. In my opinion, if there is a weakness of the book, it is also its strength: that over and over again the author passionately asserts his thesis: that artistic activity is a universal human activity, an activity in which all persons can and should derive satisfaction."—Robert D. Clements, National Art Education Association Newsletter

"[T]his discussion ranges from the artistic efforts of the mentally retarded to the nature of prodigy. Sarason, a clear writer, is critical of the role of art in modern education."—Choice

"The Making of an American Psychologist is the extraordinary autobiography of an extraordinary person. Seymour Sarason's colleagues and students as well as the broader community of scholars and practitioners will welcome it for the fresh insights it provides about this sensitive, humane and passionately honest human being. Many readers will find this book a fascinating history of American psychology of the past half century as perceived by one individual."—Saul B. Cohen, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"A well-documented and inspiring critique of our cultural values and educational practices."—Science News

"This passionate and eloquent work pleads for art (including the art of writing) and the artist in all of us."—Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"An open-minded reader would have to work very hard at not being persuaded, for this book is extremely persuasive. It is as persuasive in its implications for all disciplines as in its challenge to psychology, and Sarason does cut across disciplines. . . . He moves with ease across disciplines not only because he is widely knowledgeable, but also because his definition of the artistic impulse is not narrow. . . . This is a magnificent book, one that even in its brevity . . . explains a great deal. It is a book that reeducates its reader, forcing him or her to view art from a new perspective."—Steven E. Connelly, Journal of Mind and Behavior

"Sarason's argument, if followed through, does have certain very uncomfortable implications for child-rearing, education, and so on—basically, we need to rethink what we do to children. It also has implications for us as individuals—what talents have we each personally suppressed which, if allowed to flower, might transform our lives and, by osmosis, help transform our society?"—Frances Mosley, Self and Society

"In at least two most welcome ways this book goes beyond what it announces in its title. It reaches beyond psychology and beyond art. . . . [Sarason] has come to see that a neglect of art, of which his fellow professionals can be accused, is due to an even more threatening deficiency of our modern civilization quite in general; and he also realizes that art as commonly defined is only the peak of a much broader human capacity."—Rudolf Arnheim, Leonardo

"Strongly felt and directly stated."—Gilbert J. Rose, Psychoanalytic Books

"Worth reading for its sensitive treatment of a topic that most psychologists and educators ignore."—Donald Arnstine, Educational Studies
ISBN: 9780300047547
Publication Date: September 26, 1990