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The Perception and Invention Principles:

Perception-Based vs. Invention-Based Art Instruction

There is a fundamental difference in principle between the New Masters system and most other Art Programs. While most art programs today are based on the invention principle: the idea that creativity is primarily a product of the imagination, the New Masters Program is based on the perception principle: the idea that individuals are more fundamentally creative in the way they perceive the real world than in the way they invent or imagine fanciful inner worlds. What this means, among many other things, is that art programs based on the invention principle have no external or objective basis for judging their effectiveness or the progress of their students. Teachers in such programs cannot determine how successful their students are at working from their imaginations because they have no way of knowing what their student's imaginations actually contain. The only imagination teachers have any direct knowledge of is their own -- which explains why most art instruction today is based primarily upon the personal artistic tastes of the instructor and the passing trends of the day. It explains why such programs vary so widely from school to school, and why art education is the only field today that attempts to function without a viable system of standards.

Because perception-based art instruction is founded on objective, rather than personal, references:
the objects of the visible world, it has a stable basis for the establishment of standards. Whether those objects are simple cartoon pictures or complex still lives, the teacher and the student can judge the student's progress (up to a point) by comparing the student's artwork with the original object -- something they both experience in common.

Proponents of invention-based art instruction often argue that copying pictures is not a creative activity. Such statements, of course, are based on the modern concept of creativity, the idea that real art, the highest art, comes from the imagination rather than the senses. While copying pictures may not be creative in an inventive sense, it is an essential element in the development of creativity in a perceptual sense. The importance of copying pictures is not to be found in the artwork produced, but in the skills developed in the process. These skills are then applied to what is, in our view, the highest and most creative of artistic acts: the truthful rendering of nature directly perceived, as it is perceived.

While personal experimentation and free-exploration types of art classes can provide valid and potentially rewarding experiences for certain students under certain conditions, it is important to note that such activities are not skill-development activities and do little to prepare children for the time when their developing perceptions of the world can no longer be contained within the simple symbol-systems of early childhood. It is important to note that even though the New Masters System emphasizes perception, it does not ignore the imagination. It simply reverses the emphasis found in most art programs today. Its emphasis on developing the ability to draw and paint directly from visual experience is enriched by added training in the strategies of invention -- training in drawing and painting techniques and design principles that enable students to use their perceptual and technical abilities in ways that free them from both inventive and perceptual conventions.

The arguments supporting Perception-based art instruction can be briefly summarized as follows:

1. Experts in the field of visual perception almost unanimously agree that seeing is a creative act -- perhaps the most creative of acts. Each of us experiences the world in a uniquely personal way.

2. Abstraction, the primary instrument of "expression" in the field of invention-based aesthetics, is defined as a departure from the world of sense-experience, and is, therefore, a departure from that which is most creative and most unique about us: the way we view the world as individuals.

3. The goal of art under the perceptual aesthetic is to learn to see the world in one's own terms, free of the limitations imposed by inadequate technical skills and free from the influence of intellectual trends and visual conventions, both perceptual and inventive.

4. Perceptual art is based on a more substantial and legitimate historical tradition than that associated with the Modern Art movement. The modern art tradition is supported by questionable references to El Greco and Goya, and by justifiable references to Gauguin, the Post Impressionists, Picasso, and Matisse. The perceptual tradition has its basis in the work of Giotto, Leonardo, Carravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez, the Impressionists, and Paul Cezanne. (We take the position that Paul Cezanne was a perceiver rather than an inventor and that he has thus been improperly associated with the Modern Art movement. The true "father of Modern Art," in our view, is Paul Gauguin.)

John Gordon
Director, Gordon School of Art

For more information please visit our curriculum summary page.

N651 Norman Road, Kewaunee, WI 54216 • 1-800-210-1220

Email: gordon@newmasters.com

Home-Study and Studio Art Instruction for Children and Adults-Teacher Training