An Intrinsic Ecosystem of Arts and Culture Education and Everyday Life: Celebrating International Arts Education Week 2020
The sky is remarkably clear. The hazy veil that once clouded our vision has now disappeared. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of fine dust in the air has noticeably decreased. Although human beings notice something different only once we witnessed it with our own eyes, other forms of life feelthis reality much more quickly using all of their senses. Animals have begun to expand their areas of activity not only upon recognizing the cleaner air, but also upon sensing the surrounding quietness of the earth. With the movement of human beings restricted, the earth’s ecosystem has begun to show various signs of positive change. These phenomena remind us of the obvious yet often forgotten reality that life on this planet is not something experienced by humans alone. With students finding discomfort in remote classes and longing for the day that they can go back to school, the changes brought about by the pandemic provide usan opportunity to take another look at our daily life habits. Many of us might find ourselves wondering whether there truly is a reason behind having to meet face-to-face in order to conduct classes, causing noise and air pollution in the process. In this way, thoughts on the intrinsic existence of the earth’s ecosystem have become pervasive ideas for inquiry and reflection beyond just the fields of education and the arts.
The Impacts of Change
Every year, during the fourth week of May, the world celebrates International Arts Education Week, which was first proposed by the Republic of Korea at the 2011 UNESCO General Conference. This event is a joint effort by arts and culture stakeholders from around the world to improve the quality of life for all. But how exactly is it possible to achieve a better or happier life? Our lives are composed of a series of intricate interactions between places and people. In that regard, arts and culture education plays an important role in identifying detailed experiences of concepts such as where and with whom one lives. Even the five-year strategy implemented by the government for arts and culture education, developed under the vision of “life with arts and culture education”, is regionally-focused, further emphasizing the importance of practical locations in the greater context of life.
However, with the significant role of the internet and technology in creating a globalized world, we now find ourselves changing our locations with every passing moment, often finding friends among people whom we have never even met before. In today’s world, many of the events and relationships in our lives take place not within a given physical space but, rather, through online connections. This is one of the reasons why digital literacy, which is used in the handling of issues in the world of information technology, as opposed to those of the real world, is becoming an increasingly part of arts and culture education. Regardless, life itself is biologically dependent on one’s physical body and the necessities needed to sustain it; as such, one could say that practical changes in life begin from one’s body. Today, we are faced with the ever accelerated separation of the things and places that connect our bodies and those that connect our minds and emotions. It is in this process of change around the world that arts and culture education and its stakeholders are faced with a dilemma.
Thankfully, the positive impact that COVID-19 has had on the earth’s ecosystem has given us a slight reprieve from this issue of concern. The pandemic has introduced changes in the quality of life for all of us, introducing a lifestyle that is not simply based upon interactions between humans but, rather, between all forms of life within the earth’s ecosystem. It is only when the body is in a single given place for an extended period of time that it begins to realize the intrinsic existence of this very ecosystem. In other words, in such circumstances, the human body begins to respond and adapt to the constant stimuli of the ground, the water, the sun, and the air. An indigenous life refers to a life in which people can appreciate the characteristics of the surrounding land, climate, and soil and, thus, carry on the experiences of the ancestors whose memories were built in that space over a long period of time. As the word “indigenous” implies, when a human population lays down its roots in a given place, it is then that it becomes a part of the land like the other organisms found there. The understanding that the land one’s body occupies is the basis of life itself is fundamental to understanding other forms of life and coexisting with them. Once humankind realizes and comes to accept the fact that no single life form can live on this earth on its own, it can begin to control its own actions and respect the lives of others, thus embodying a living component of the earth’s natural ecosystem.
Deeply Rooted Life on Earth
From the perspective of an ecological life, technology simultaneously bears the adverse effect of weakening the sense of physical spaces and the positive effect of encouraging one to stay in a single space by inhibiting unnecessary movement. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the voluntary limitation of physical movement that has followed, what would happen if we paid more attention to the “body’s abode”? This suggests that, as digital nomads, no matter how widely we explore the world of technology, we refrain from activities that interfere with the natural ecosystem of the earth in which we have deeply planted our roots. Now is the time for us to reflect upon our prolonged misuse of science and technology over the years as tools for controlling or completely ignoring the earth’s natural order as if we stood at the very top of the ecosystem.
Arts and culture education should not be limited to developing new levels of creativity and imagination through the implementation of technology; instead, it should aim at leading humankind to deeply consider the relationships between humans and technology, technology and the ecosystem, and humans and the ecosystem, respectively. Jeon Chi-hyung, a professor at KAIST, once said that technology should not be used solely for designing and developing innovations that result in monetary benefit. He notes that technology should also be used to promote the actions necessary for the existence, support, and development of a given community. (A Person’s Place, Reaching the Heart of Science) Jeon’s suggestion aligns with the future direction of arts and culture education. Arts and culture education must implement technology appropriately, with the purpose of promoting the existence, support, and development of communities, while also acquiring and sharing the essentials needed to do the same for the relatively larger ecosystem. As such, I hope that the arts and culture education will strive toward developing the creativity and imaginations of the world’s future generations, with the current experience of social distancing gradually developing into a new norm of ecological distancing.
Jung Won-chul is an editor at the Korea Arts and Culture Education Services webzine Arte 365. He graduated from Hongik University in South Korea and the University of Kassel in Germany with a major in fine arts. As a member of the visual culture division at Cultural Action, Jung has participated in research on alternative textbooks for visual culture education and has demonstrated great interest in arts and culture education. He has lived in Yangpyeong since 1993 and, over the past 13 years, has led various platforms with teachers at Sewol High School to discuss arts and cultural education. Currently, as a professor in the department of printing arts at Chugye University for the Arts, he teaches courses that emphasize the public nature of art.