Reflections on Aesthetics


The publication, Innovationsis celebrating a birthday...or anniversary.  Many of us have been fortunate enough to read issues of Innovations for 25 years…since 1992.  The articles published inspire and inform us about the innovative, creative work with young children and educators in Reggio Emilia and in North America. Thank you to the editors and the board and all the contributors for their enormous dedication and commitment to this publication.

I was recently asked to reflect on an issue of Innovations published in the fall of 2012 that focuses on the atelier and the hundred languages of children. It includes a lead article by Vea Vecchi from Reggio, a reflection by Judy Graves on hosting the “Wonder of Learning” exhibit in Portland, Oregon, and a description of a project by Barbara Pratt Moser, atelierista from Pittsburgh.  (In my reflections I used some of my thoughts and connections from previous blog posts and I am including them here as well.)

When I read all of these articles I think of the central themes that form the foundation for the work of the atelier and the idea of the 100 languages of children and of human beings.  One theme is what Vea calls poetics and aesthetics.  She often quotes Gregory Bateson who defines aesthetics as “the pattern that connects.”  Rather than being something pretty or pleasing, even though it might include those things, aesthetics points to the fabric of life that holds the world together…the unseen, the seen, the in-betweens, the visible and invisible, the emotions, the sense we make of things, what we are naturally drawn to as humans, and the great mystery of the universe that we inhabit.


The idea that knowledge without emotion and imagination is incomplete, dry and actually not fully true, is a powerful idea.  The pattern that connects must not be disregarded.  The stories of Judy Graves and Barbara Pratt Moser illustrate and reiterate this idea.

Vea was scheduled to come to St. Louis for a conference on the Atelier in the fall of 2001.  She wrote to us that she felt she could not come after the events of 9/11, being a non-English speaker in an uncertain world.  She said that one of her strong beliefs is that engagement in poetics and aesthetics is the antidote to both violence and indifference and that we needed to put all our work into the hope of what the atelier has to offer to children and to all of us.

Vea gave a TEDx talk in Reggio Emilia, Italy in October of 2011.  I quote Vea here as her words and ideas strongly connect to the themes of the articles in this issue of Innovations.  These words seem particularly relevant and meaningful in our world right now.


The atelier (or studio that is not only a central place but also a way of working throughout our schools) has brought many materials and techniques, but also has illuminated a need, not only for children, but for human beings to communicate in a way that rationality and imagination travel together.  We believe in a multiplicity of languages that are integrated and not separated.  We believe that this makes learning and understanding more rich and more complete.  Poetic thought does not separate the imaginative from the cognitive, emotion from the rational, empathy from deep investigation.  It lights up all the senses and perceptions and cultivates an intense relationship with what is all around us.  It constructs thoughts that are not conformist.  And this creates two important elements: solidarity and participation, both of which are the foundation of democracy. To conclude, we believe that identifying and researching beauty and ethics is the indispensable foundation for a livable, sustainable future that everyone speaks about but that seems so difficult to bring about.  It is only with an intelligent heart, with courage and with vision that we can proceed.