In “Knowledge and the Arts”, Mr. MacKnight highlights the contrast between technical knowledge and wisdom to illustrate the importance of the arts. When reading this piece, I noticed that Mr. MacKnight’s definition of technical knowledge resembles his definition of form. In this essay, he defines technical knowledge using the examples of poetic verses, paint qualities, and lighting in cinematography (p. 2). To compare, common examples of form in literature are narrative structure, imagery, and diction. When we explore the form of literature, we must ask ourselves, “So what?”. Noticing the diction used in a poem, without exploring the effect of that diction, is somewhat futile. Connecting the form with the content is what allows us to effectively analyze literature. Similarly, noticing the technical details in artwork only becomes truly valuable when you explore the effect of that knowledge. Often, when people claim that art is non-essential, they are only looking at the technical knowledge of art. However, Mr. MacKnight defines the wisdom that we obtain from art, to argue its necessity. When exploring how art produces knowledge, he claims, “[through learning] about who we are, where we are, and how best to live, we gain the highest form of knowledge, which is traditionally called wisdom” (p. 10). Technical knowledge is simply a stepping stone on the way to wisdom. We observe technical details of artwork, to elicit a deeper understanding of the piece, the artist, ourselves, and our society. Technical knowledge is one element that proves the importance of artwork, whereas wisdom is the fundamental knowledge we gain from it. As Mr. MacKnight summarizes on the last page of his essay, art is essential because wisdom is essential (p. 11).
This essay raises several questions on the nature of knowledge, and the education we receive in school. Often, school subjects are ranked in a hierarchy. Whether based on difficulty, importance, or practicality, maths and sciences are typically placed near the top, whereas arts and languages are frequently diminished. Those who agree with this hierarchical configuration may also agree with the claim, “The arts are nice, but not essential” (p. 3). To contrast, Mr. MacKnight describes how our interactions with art make it crucial. The ways in which we respond to art help us uncover our biases, discover our identities, and learn about our cultures. As previously expressed, we gain wisdom through art, which cannot necessarily be said about the courses that are often prioritized. In the arts, we are instantly taught to question everything, from the techniques used to the global issues presented. Despite that, the arts are significantly undervalued and underfunded in our society. We always advertise math competitions, but hardly advertise painting ones. Similarly, math is a mandatory course, whereas art is optional. In our schools, employment, university applications, and even extracurricular activities, most everything is evaluated through numerical standards. We’re frequently taught to prioritize quantity over quality, as a product of our capitalist society. The arts provide balance for this numerical system, by restoring qualitative and profound knowledge. Perhaps, if we begin to value the arts as much as we value mathematics and sciences, our knowledge will progress. And perhaps, if we start to appreciate wisdom as much as we appreciate technical knowledge, we will grow as a society.