SchoolArts Room

The Best Big Ideas: Boyer's Human Commonalities

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Apr 12, 2016

Famed educator Ernest Boyer's Human Commonalities represent eight things all humans on this earth have in common. No matter what nationality, tribe, culture, or time period we associate with, we can all relate to these eight universal experiences. I have used these big ideas as themes in SchoolArts Magazine and in developing curriculum.

1.) The Life Cycle (all humans experience birth, growth, and death)
2.) Language (all humans use symbols to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions)
3.) The Arts (various art forms serve as a universal language)
4.) History (all humans, at some point, recall the past and look to the future)
5.) Groups/Institutions (all humans belong in some way)
6.) Work (all humans make a living in some way)
7.) Search for Meaning (all humans, in their own personal way, ponder the larger purpose of life)
8.) The Natural World (all humans are connected to the ecology of the earth)
Spirit House from Thailand

Sacred Realm Blessings Good Fortune Across Asia, a current exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a wonderful example of taking a big idea and comparing how it is expressed  through art in different cultures. To me, this clearly illustrates the Human Commonality of Language (all humans use symbols to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions). 

Shrine to Dali Lama



"Sacred Realm reflects wide-ranging practices of belief that, at the same time, depict the common human desire to attain balance and harmony in the physical and spiritual realms of life. "
Paper clothes.

Sacred Realm highlights the Museum's own Asian collection exploring such beliefs as magical protection, blessings, and good fortune. This exhibition is unique in that it is presented thematically.



"The Museum exhibit team worked with a Feng Shui designer to spiritually balance the gallery, incorporating basic principles of color and object placement to aid the gallery's harmony and flow."





Hamsa hand, magical protection from the envious or evil eye.



It is such a joy to see a thematic exhibition like this. (And I do believe the Museum has the best exhibit design anywhere.)
How can you utilize an exhibit such as this with your students? Rather than having students copy such pieces, why not share and discuss the exhibit with them and them challenge them to come up with personally meaningful and contemporary symbols that express blessings and good fortune. You could also bring other similar cultural objects such as milagros and ex-votos to the discussion.

You can access information and photos for the exhibition here. I believe you could adapt this for any age level.