We seem to live in a time when almost all discussion of youth is linked to problems and pathologies. This perspective is so deeply ingrained within our cultural psyche that any other concern is effectively squeezed out. I worry that this reflex has repercussions for kids. When we view childhood as a series of dangers to be navigated, negotiated, and avoided, all other matters can seem trivial. One area of life of tremendous relevance to youth, but which gets no attention or discussion, is aesthetics. Let me clarify. I don’t mean aesthetics as philosophy, but as a practical concern affecting everyday life. For example, the form and design of buildings and public spaces. Children move through these spaces, and they have an enormous effect on their developing minds. Yet where do we investigate the effect of form and space? Where do we ever inquire about the emotion of these experiences? I believe we simply don’t. For years, I’ve been fascinated by the design of schools, and the role of design in facilitating learning and social connection. But these topics are rarely mentioned in the U.S. Aesthetics is a special kind of language that attunes young minds to the senses, and the capacity for reasoned judgement. There is ample room for critical thinking skills within the realm of aesthetics. It’s also a naturally compelling subject for young people because it speaks to creative problem solving, color, and imagination. I feel just as strongly about kids being exposed to art, music, and performance, but the immediacy of architecture and space are terrific starting points. Could it be that living in a market-driven culture has made us somewhat ashamed to be excited about such matters? Do we feel embarrassed to be thinking about the shape of a room when questions of medication, discipline, and finance await our attention?
A culture without visionaries, and which does little to raise visionaries, is on a treadmill. A world that marginalizes aesthetic experiences is only running in place.