August 1, 2008
Knowledge contains within it the essence of pedagogy. It is the “passing down,” either through the presence of speech or, in an author’s “absence,” the written word, where teaching begins. Teaching philosophies vary, from Plato’s suspicion of teaching (and writing, for that matter) in defense of the Socratic dialectic (1), to the assumptive dismissal by St. Thomas Aquinas of the human ability to teach in support of his theology. However, it was the Aquinas essay, “De Magistro” (“On the Teacher”), which focused my attention on the matter of pedagogical knowledge and its revelation through the interaction of study.(2)
Aquinas grants that “if humans can teach” it is through the use of “signs and symbols.”(3) He further states that without knowledge of “the things themselves” (and here we must avow that these “things” also include such “intelligibles” as “beauty” and “truth”) we cannot “understand” the signs. Willingly comprehending that Aquinas means “signs” to be the words we use to describe these “things,” we must admit his logic is sound as these referents are indeed carriers of information but not the knowledge itself.
This poses seductive queries (in no particular relevance or desire) on the “emptiness” of semiotics, the privileging of empirical knowledge, and “parallels between Thomistic methodology and contemporary structuralism” nearly 700 years earlier than previously suspected.(4) Notwithstanding these distractions, what proves most significant to my consideration of Aquinas and his selection for inclusion in Song for Europe is the role of the teacher.
As evidenced in both approach and site, my blackboards create a methodology for study. There are words to be deciphered, in this particular installation words in Greek, Latin, French and English, and sentences to be constructed from these words. Deduction plays a part but intellectual activity is close at hand as the writing eventually reveals thought. All those so disposed may further research individual text selections and, regardless of one’s expertise with respective languages, this reveals more “knowledge” and possible “meanings.”
For this to be a success, participation is required. It is a participatory experience of both “looking” as regards the objects and lines “drawn” within, and “reading” as words become apparent. My roles in this are both as artist and teacher, as I present “things” for study, objects for contemplation and communication.
“For the teacher presents signs of the knowable things, from which the student's mind takes ideas in order to consider them. Thus the teacher's words or writings end up being like the subject of study, since the student takes ideas from both. The difference is that the teacher's words are a more direct way of generating knowledge than the experience of the subject since they are signs of the ideas themselves.”(5)
Song for Europe opens Aug. 16, 2008 at The Athenaeum. Gallery hours: Thursday-Sunday, 12-4 pm. For information: 1-703-548-0035.
Image: Song for Europe: De Magistro (Latin) (2008), in process; © Copyright 2008.
1. “. . . this knowledge is not something that can be put into words like other sciences; but after long-continued intercourse between teacher and pupil, in joint pursuit of the subject, it is born in the soul and straightway [sic] nourishes itself.” From Plato’s Seventh Letter, translation by J. Howard,
2. The etymology of “pedagogue” is perhaps enlightening here, as the origin is both Greek and Latin; from the Latin paedagōgus, a “slave who supervised children and took them to and from school,” and from the Greek paidagōgos, where “slave” becomes a “boy” who performs the herding and “supervising.” Disregarding for the moment the slavish nature of teaching, we must remain aware of the possible sociological damage done by assigning the task of “teacher” to “slaves” and “boys” that has perhaps subliminally affected the field of education over the years.
3. This quote and all subsequent quotations are taken from The Aquinas Project, translation of “De Magistro” (“On the Teacher: Question 11 of De Veritate, Article 1: “Can humans teach each other?”) by Gregory Froelich.
4. “Aquinas” and “Structuralism” yields 43,000 hits in Yahoo’s search, with at least Umberto Eco’s volume a promising resource for elucidation on this topic.
5. Op. cit.