Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Art Education Is Crucial

Sierra Art Trails begins today and I'm delighted to be part of this annual open-studio and meet-the-artists event here in the Sierra foothills.  This is my first year of participation and I decided to use it as a way to give something back to the community, so I will be collecting and contributing to a fund for school art supplies for local schools.

As I look at the artists who are part of Art Trails, I see a mature group of people, most of whom have had non-art-related careers.  Accountants, teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs ... a whole spectrum of backgrounds ... with the common thread that somewhere along the line we fell in love with art.  Most of us went to school in a time when art was part of school, a time when crayons, paper, finger paint and other art supplies were taken for granted.  

Those days are gone.  Time for art has been squeezed out by various mandates, and over-taxed budgets have made art supplies almost non-existent.  The truly sad part of this is that we may be killing our own golden goose.  In our zeal to improve our schools, we're eliminating the arts which have been proven to stimulate creative thinking, innovation, improved problem solving, teamwork and appreciation of the world around us.  

Edutopia, the website dedicated to promoting what works in education, offers an article on "Why Art Education is Crucial" which states in part (and it's worth reading the entire article): 
"Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence," sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.
Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.
"If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less," says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction. "There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests."
Yet some districts have made great strides toward not only revitalizing the arts but also using them to reinvent schools. The work takes leadership, innovation, broad partnerships, and a dogged insistence that the arts are central to what we want students to learn. 


  1. I keep wondering how much more evidence is needed before the importance of arts education is recognized. The benefits of arts to the economy also continue to be questioned, despite all the studies confirming arts' value. What a wonderful day it will be when people begin lobbying to keep arts instead of gut them.

    Have fun this weekend!

  2. Which is why I started an art program at the shelter where I work.

    Thanks Joyce -- for all you do to instill in all of us a belief in the arts and our ability to awaken to its calling.

  3. This is particularly poignant today: I just received notice that the woman who does the communications for my church (and does a phenomenal job; the most gorgeous artistic work I've seen anywhere in church communications) is having her hours cut and will therefore be quitting. It's an economic measure, of course, but I believe her work did all of that for this congregation --stimulate creative thinking, innovation, improved problem solving, teamwork and appreciation of the world around us -- and it's part of what makes this church different, and palatable for me. What will happen when she goes? And what will happen as organizations and communities everywhere continue squeezing art out of their budgets?

  4. I absolutely agree with Tom Horne when he says, "If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less." An art center for young children is crucial for gains that are unable to be achieved in other school activities.

    I’m retired now but taught for many years. In my combined first and second grade classes, children freely participated in the art center during Choice Time. (The same approach had been included in nursery school through third grades.) Readily available supplies were bought with school money and parents supplied a huge variety of junk materials. Much of art for the young child involves exploring a wide range of materials. It should include the process that is emphasized. During this process, they have opportunities to develop the very same cognitive traits necessary to succeed in academic areas.

    See my 2 entries about an art center for young children:

  5. Peggy ... thanks for your very valuable post to this important conversation.