In September, the RSA Japan Fellows Network ran: Ruskin Calling: Educating Hands, Heads & Hearts In The Age Of AI; a hands-on event exploring the kind of education that will prepare us for changing times. Here, event organiser and Fellow Divya Marie Kato reflects:
Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.
A key area of the RSA’s work is working towards “… an education of the head, hand and heart…” but what does this mean in 2018? Could the ideas of a man born 200 years ago give us some clues? And how can we go about exploring the question driving the RSA’s education work: “What kind of education will help bring about a 21st Century Enlightenment?”
Approaching the 200th anniversary of John Ruskin’s birth, as a Tokyo-based artist and educator, I presented his messages for a society in change, in an event with a twist: rather than a lecture style presentation, I ran an experiment putting his ideas into practice. Ruskin’s influence in Japan, brought to my attention by RSA fellow, UK-based artist and educator, Hilary Baker, may come as a surprise to many: due to the efforts of Ryuzo Mikimoto and The Ruskin Library Tokyo, Japan holds the largest collection of John Ruskin’s work outside of the U.K.
Ruskin: Largely Forgotten?
Ruskin was the most influential critic of the Victorian era. Born in 1819, his work, spanning art, politics and social reform, inspired such notable figures as Gandhi, Proust and Tolstoy.
I translated it (Unto This Last) later into Gujarati entitling it ‘Sarvodaya’ (the welfare of all). I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life.
It was Ruskin's rallying call for self-inquiry that particularly resonated with me. Especially in the attention deprived age in which now find ourselves, carving out slices of reflection to explore life's big questions has never been more important.
The attention economy raises many questions: are we doing enough to encourage self reflection in others? Are we simply continuing to stuff the younger generation with information? How are we helping students explore life's questions and are we providing them with enough opportunities for reflection and play?
The World Economic Forum forecasts that creativity will be in the top three most sought after skills by employers in 2020. In the age of automation and machine learning, the future of work is changing and skills in adaptability, problem solving, emotional intelligence and creative thinking are becoming more valuable.
All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.
Drawing On Ruskin: Ideas Into Practice
Ruskin was a powerful advocate of drawing. (Notably, William Shipley, the RSA's founder, was also a drawing master). Encouraging self-inquiry and developing observation and understanding were values he felt drawing inspired. As someone who has used drawing throughout my life, this struck a chord with me and I sought to share these values with participants by encouraging them to reflect, express and play. I also drew inspiration from Ruskin to organise the first UK-Japan Big Draw alongside Hilary Baker FRSA – which you can find out more about here, or watch the video here.
Drawing Our Hopes & Fears For The Future
Fears and hopes from Fellows and guests who attended the event:
Fears: “Big Brother.” “Becoming obsolete.” “Environmental impact of economic growth.” “Fewer children.” “Over digitalisation.” “Bigger gap in inequality.” “Fear of silence not science. People no longer talking, asking, doing.”
Hopes: “More mindfulness and creativity.” (with automation, more time to pursue other goals) “We can once again become human ‘beings’ and not human ‘doings’.” “Less politic-ing and more reasonable pragmatism.” “Inclusion not exclusion.” “Things which seems frightening now, will be revealed merely as the evolution every generation fears.”
The event was a rollercoaster of discussion, drawings and Skype calls which elicited passionate responses and questions from participants. Special thanks to the RSA JFN team, RSA Japan fellows and friends, and our special guests joining us from the U.K., artists Hilary Baker and Alexander Massouras.
In uncertain times, observing this level of energy and engagement means there's still a lot to look forward to. I’d argue that education in the 21st century should do two things above all: inspire independent inquiry and hope. Imagination and expression, arguably our most precious assets, will shine a light on the path forward.
In a short timeframe, with minimum power point and maximum interactive participation, we engaged our heads, hands and hearts in a lively conversation about lifelong learning and the value of being human in the age of AI.
And, I believe in doing so, we managed to bring Ruskin’s ideas to life. If he has been calling, I hope he enjoyed our response.
About the network: Find out more about the RSA Japan Fellows Network via their website.