Why does art matter? A few years ago, a famous street artist known to the world as Banksy made providing an answer to this deceptively simple question a necessary condition for shopping in his exclusive online store. Far from being a mere precaution against philistines, it was in itself a performance of sorts. This was an attempt to make visitors aware of the role art continues to play in the modern world – make them stop and ponder over art instead of passively consuming it.
Yet one cannot possibly give a measurable, clear-cut answer to the question that has puzzled philosophers since the time of Plato. I could write my essay stretching dozens of pages to answer that. However, without clear empirical evidence of art's value, policymakers and administrators have decided arts aren't important enough to keep feeding shrinking funds and resources into art education in schools. For such an essential part of human experience, art is dramatically underrepresented in classrooms – and it has been steadily vanishing from the K12 curriculum for several decades. Even if art exists in the curriculum, it is too often sidelined to make space for tested subjects like Math and English. As they say, what gets measured, gets done. Meanwhile, essential data that would allow evaluation of art's influence on student outcomes are seldom collected and reported.
Still, few studies that were conducted have shown that students might be losing out on more than a bit of fun and self-expression when they are denied an opportunity to learn fashion history or practice music. In this post, I will try to list the reasons why art education is important in a shorter form to save you the trouble of reading lengthy reports. I know you are busy bees, and time is a limited resource.
What Is Art Education?
Art education is broadly defined as teaching and learning to channel emotions through artistic expression such as painting, music, drama, dance, sculpture, and film, discovering students' full potential. Art education also includes learning how to understand and evaluate art created by others. This can be done through both curriculum and extra-curricular activities, either as regular classes or intensive programs, such as summer schools and workshops.
Art education aims to deepen students' perception and the ability to see how art is present in other aspects of life. Students learn to understand and apply artistic concepts, structures, functions, symbols, and ideas to connect art with other disciplines. This connection is another essential part of art education.
In fact, many experts see artistic integration with teaching other disciplines as key to better academic achievement. For example, a program by the Wolf Trap Institute that pairs art teachers with educators have worked to formulate art-integrated lessons for the classroom: drama to teach a math concept of measurements, sculpture to explain exponents, painting to foster conversations about racial equality and police brutality, etc.
The American Institutes for Research found the program effective: students from classes with integrated instruction performed better on math assessment tests than their peers from "regular" classes. They have demonstrated a better grasp of the material – especially students that struggled with English. Visual representation of abstract concepts, emotional investment, enthusiasm, and fun students had are just a few possible explanations for the program's success.
Why Is Art Education Important In Schools?
The answer to that should not be limited merely to answering the question, "What can I do with an art education degree?" Even if a student doesn't plan a career in the artistic field, studying art allows them to build an essential part of their personality and develop certain aspects of their character that otherwise would be neglected or repressed. Art reaches deep. It accesses parts of your brain and psyche that nothing else can reach. Art teaches that you can be whoever you want to be. This imparts to a student a sense of ownership over the learning process, improving motivation and engagement.
Although most parents and the public at large recognize the value of the arts for a well-rounded, complete education, they see them more as an addition to core subjects, a "periphery" of the school curriculum. However, this cannot be farther from the truth! The late Alan Parker, a British filmmaker, once called art "the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe" and quite rightly insisted that arts must be at the very core of school education.
Indeed, an increase in art education positively affects students' academic, social, and emotional outcomes. Studies show that exposure to arts experiences results in better discipline and significant improvement in standardized writing scores.
Moreover, art improves empathy and school climate. Students who receive art education are more interested in other people's feelings and more likely to help people who are bullied. Engagement in arts fosters mutual respect for peers and teachers.
Arts education is particularly efficient in early childhood education. Elementary school students involved in art programs show better school engagement, find school more enjoyable, and are more interested in college than their non-involved counterparts. Art gives students a sense of purpose regardless of their academic interests.
Art teaches all the crucial skills we need to succeed in every job. It promotes problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinking, emotional intelligence, empathy, mindfulness, stress-resilience, and teamwork.
Tom Horne, Republican candidate for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, names three purposes of education: "We're preparing kids for jobs. We're preparing them to be citizens. And we're teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two." Yet it turns out that art is a critical component in each part of this triad!
How Does Art Education Benefit Students?
Okay, so more art in school can give this country better citizens and leaders – more empathic, engaged, educated, and disciplined. However, what do students get out of several hours of art a week? Wouldn't it be better to spend this time hanging out with friends or playing favorite games? It turns out that art enriches lives on the individual level as well.
- Art shows us what it is to be human
- Art fuels creativity
- Art teaches you to innovate
- Art shapes critical thinking
- Art gives you a holistic view of the world
- Art connects you to your identity
- Art helps you cope with stress
- Art gives you confidence
The above quote from John Ruskin brilliantly encapsulates the importance of art for holistic development and mindful life. Art is deeply embedded in humanity. It teaches you to deal with the world around you, make sense of it, and live your life to its fullest.
Art opens doors to other modes of thinking – other worlds if you like. It is a space full of possibilities, where you make up the rules. That is the main difference between arts and all the other subjects. Math, Physics, English – they all objectively exist, whether you study them or not, while art puts you in the situation where you are the center, the source of it.
You don't have innovation where you don't have arts. No matter what you study: Science, Geography, History – you need to be creative to move forward. The most successful and prolific people in any field of knowledge are often the most creative ones, with some background or interest in arts.
Critical thinking is a way of asking questions no one asked before, trying to see your subject from various, often unexpected, sides. It's very creative in nature, allowing us to explore beyond what we already know. Art teaches you to ask "what if?" and think differently.
Art is much more than just creating pretty pictures or nice tunes. Art is deeply connected to history, philosophy, and politics. It offers a holistic view of the past and present – and the ability to create the future.
The art lies at the core of what we are as a civilization and society – it is our visual history. Studying art allows you to see what values we have as a people, what our cultural identity is, who we are as a nation, and what makes us tick.
Art makes you a healthier, happier version of yourself. It allows you to process emotions and release stress, helping you cope with the pressures of everyday life. At the same time, we all know that studying the "core" subjects often heavily contributes to said pressures. Art balances it all out.
By encouraging self-expression, art builds your confidence and sense of self. It allows you to find your place in the big world and inhabit it comfortably.
That's the wealth of benefits that regular art practice brings students. Yet we take it out of the curriculum, chipping from it, hour after hour, prioritizing subjects that can be easily measured during standardized testing. And then, we just expect students to somehow "pick up" all the skills employers value above all in the twenty-first century: creativity, empathy, confidence, teamwork, etc. It's absurd! It's like expecting people to be great athletes without regular exercise and training.
Every child and young person deserves a complete education that incorporates arts and allows students to develop holistically. That's the hill I'm prepared to die on!