The Arts are Valuable, Keep Them in Our Schools
Parents want what is best for their child; the best care, the best living environment, the best education. Parents want their children to receive a well-rounded education to prepare themselves for the future: to graduate high school, go to college, get a degree that will ultimately get them a good job to earn a decent amount of constant income to survive on their own, because it’s what’s best for them. That education comes from the elementary, middle, and high schools within our nation, but the opportunity to get a well-rounded education lies jeopardy. Due to budget cuts presented to schools in the past decade, art classes are slowly being eliminated from the curriculum in order to keep core classes of language arts, history, math, and science in the system. These budget cuts present the debate of whether or not art classes are actually necessary for students to receive a good education. The truth of the matter is that art classes are just as valuable to students as those core classes. Studies have been conducted to show the benefits of the arts to a child’s education, with results showing how art helps with brain development starting at a young age, which in turn develops necessary skills for future learning in school. The results also show that the arts help students succeed and reach their full potential in school by improving test scores and motivating students to stay in high school and see that they walk across the stage and receive their diploma at graduation.
Firstly, a definition of what qualifies as an art class needs to be presented into the argument in order to fully understand what exactly is at stake during education budget cuts, as well as to show the many art mediums that exist in schools and should be available to all students in every school across the nation. From AudioEnglish.org’s definition of an art class, it is “a class in which you learn to draw or paint,” (2014). When defining art on Google, the definition of “expression or application of human creative skill and imagination” comes up; however, it was not limited to just drawing and painting. Sculpture, music, literature, and dance all came up under Google’s definition of art (2014). Art classes are not just the stereotypical drawing and painting class; art classes encompass a variety of elective classes and activities, including the drawing and painting classes, drama and theater, all types of music classes (band, orchestra, choir, jazz band, marching band, etc.), jewelry making, sculpture, film and photography classes, and pottery. The title of art class could even reach out to subjects of wood shop, robotics classes, and even art appreciation classes, if they are available in the school. The classes listed previously are not by any means the complete list of what all art classes are due to the fact that schools are able to supply classes that other schools might not have available; the list is a bigger, general list of what an actual art class is to expand from the “traditional” drawing and painting classes.
From a very early age, parents shower their babies with picture books, music, dance, videos, and toys to help develop their understanding of language, numbers, colors, and basic knowledge about the world they are so new to, such as what sounds a certain animal makes. Gay Lynn Smith, EdD, the regional assistant dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education points out that a child’s first five years of life revolves around the arts (Yaremich, 2012). Many kids are given a set time during their day where they explore different art mediums to exercise their brain, including finger painting, coloring with crayons in a coloring book, and gluing macaroni noodles onto construction paper – many would call this “arts and crafts time”. What does arts and crafts have to do with brain development? A toddler’s brain must go through a hefty amount of processing and analyzing order to accomplish the task of finger painting, for example. They must be able to identify the colors available to them, make the decision to use a certain color, dip their fingers into the paint, and then apply it to paper. That entire process and all the processes a child’s brain goes through when participating in artistic activities are the beginning steps to developing skills that include critical thinking, problem-solving, analysis, reading comprehension, and emotional development (Yaremich, 2012). These skills are essential for comprehensive learning once enrolled into kindergarten and will only be refined as children advance through grade school and on through high school. From finger painting, kids can move on to learning how to use tools like paint brushes to create paintings and how to safely use scissors. These skills further the development of a child’s fine motor skills, testing their dexterity and ability to use hand-eye coordination to accomplish complex tasks (Lynch). It also develops a child’s observation skills by challenging them to view problems from different perspectives in order to find a solution (Alban, 2012). If a child is tasked with creating a representation of a tree with only scissors and multi-colored construction paper, they will need to hone their skills with their scissors to cut out the shapes necessary to create an image of their representation of a tree, which could take several trial and error shape-cutting sessions to get the desired shapes. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the worlds greatest and most well-known artists in human history, claims that painting is a practice that tests all of the functions of the human eye, which includes “darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, notion and rest,” (Alban, 2012). By this, da Vinci means that in order to create an accomplished painting, the individual must be able to take what their eye is able to observe and accurately project that onto the 2D canvass so that what is seen in the painting is accurate to the reality of what the eye sees. Mrs. Smith makes the statement that it is strange that in the first five years of childhood, there is so much emphasis in using the arts for a child to learn, but as soon as they get into eighth grade and on through twelfth grade, parents and teachers suddenly take away the arts and think that students don’t need the arts anymore to learn (Yaremich, 2012). If students are only taught to see things one way in black and white, then they will never be able to see all of the darkness and light in their subject, they will not be able to see the spectra of color in their subject, nor will they be able to describe the body and shape of their subject accurately.
What if someone does not have any artistic skills? Often times people who claim to not have any artistic abilities what-so-ever are categorized as “left-brain” people, someone who is more analytic than artistic. The more artistic ones tend to be the “right-brained” people (Alban, 2012); however, just because one does not have great artistic ability in drawing does not mean they are not artistic in other ways. Art makes the brain use all of its quadrants and is the only discipline within schools that has this ability (Yaremich, 2012). “Left-brained” people can benefit from participating in a sculpture class or try out for the school play and participate in the drama club because their brain will be able to better understand material in the more analytical classes (math and sciences) and to learn the material faster while being able to retain the information. Not everyone enjoys taking art classes and sometimes the students that really excel in art classes are those students who happen to be more “right-brained” than their classmates. It is difficult to believe that art benefits everyone when not everyone enjoys art classes; however, everyone has their own art form that they can benefit from, it is just a matter of making an effort to find that form and actually trying it out. The benefits will vary for each individual; some do it for the enjoyment they get from creating work, others do it because it helps relax and calm themselves, and some do it to help reflect and express feelings inside of them that cannot be expressed by using simple words.
One of the many reasons the arts are important to students and adults alike is because the arts can be used as a means of expressing one’s emotions, coping with them and communicating how they feel through their work. The arts in school greatly help guide students into portraying their emotions and developing communication skills to tell their friends, family, and teachers how they are feeling. Art can boost a child’s self-esteem when a child creates a piece of work and receives praise for their achievement from family and friends (Alban, 2012). Not only that, but art in its many forms gives students the exposure to constructive criticism to their work. In school, students are graded for the effort and presentation of their work, be it a painting, a musical number, or a monologue; this then builds a student’s confidence in their abilities, especially if they have been given praise and encouragement from their peers for their work (The Florida State Department, 1990, p. 12-13). The biggest stimulation from art is the ability for a student to tap into their imagination, which according to Einstein “…is more important that knowledge,” and this is so because, in simple terms Einstein says that knowledge is limited and imagination is infinite (Einstein, 1931). A student’s ability to tap into their imagination allows them to obtain the skills of creative thinking and problem solving, the ability to think in metaphors and abstract terms, and the ability of creativity in general; to think outside of the box, to look at problems from different views (Yaremich, 2012). Art allows people to express themselves, to heal themselves, to help others, to create. Judy Dater, a photographer, says she likes to express emotions in her work, but in order to do so, she must feel what her subject is feeling when she photographs them. Pete Docter, the director of the hit movie Monsters, Inc from Pixar Studio, says he creates because he enjoys the process because it is fun to make things. “And I’m sure there is also that universal desire to connect with other people in the some way, to tell them about myself or my experiences,” (Smith, Marsh, 2008). Art has the ability to communicate ideas, feelings, and stories without the limitations of language, race, religion, or other boundaries that separates humans. Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that posses the desire or the ability to freely create art, starting back to more than 90,000 years ago to human being’s anatomically modern ancestors, who created the first blade tools, sculptures, and jewelry pieces which is considered to be the first works of art (Feder, 2014). Yet animals have been able to step-up their artistic abilities and have created paintings and drawings of their own. Hong, a 6 year old female elephant, has been able to paint accurate representations of other elephants and caught the attention of the art world. Internationally known London painter, Vanda Harvey took it upon herself to visit Hong to collaborate with her “to create abstract art…to hold it’s own in a top London gallery” (BBC Earth, 2013). However, elephants that have the ability to paint have been trained to do so with positive reenforcement in the form of bananas as a reward for doing what their trainer has instructed them to do. Jessica Palmer, a ScienceBlog blogger, defends this claim of elephants simply doing what their trainer tells them to do by clarifying that, yes while an elephant is able to use it’s trunk to hold a brush and use that brush to paint, “the brain is what makes any artist an artist…we have no idea what’s going on in [an] elephant’s brain…” (Palmer, 2008). Most art created by elephants is considered to be abstract art and is simply used as an auction item to raise funds for the zoo that houses the elephant or funds to conserve elephants, as done by the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project (Palmer, 2008.) So while elephants and other animals have been observed to create art, they do not create art for themselves as humans do, they are doing it to receive their reward for completing a task their trainer has taught them to do.
A study from the West Virginia Department of Education showed that high school students who participated in more that the required amount of art classes (in this case, only one credit of art classes was required for a student to graduate) proved to perform better than the students that only took the one art class during their high school career. Those students that earned more than 2 credits of art were likely to score 1.3 to 1.6 times better in math and language arts than those students who took 1 credit of art. This included visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture), musical arts (band, orchestra, choir), and performing arts (theater, dance) (Kolberdanz, 2012). The 2010 College Board data for SAT scores that year show that the students that took arts or music classes all throughout high school scored higher in each section of the SAT – writing, mathematics and reading, than their fellow classmates who took other liberal arts programs (Yaremich, 2012). According to the The Center for Arts Education (CAE), a frequently asked question is why the arts are important to a quality public school education. In response to this, the CAE responded with this:
CAE believes that every child in every school has the right to a well-rounded education of which the arts are an essential ingredient. Quality arts education is central to a complete education—and it is required by state law. Beyond having great value in and of themselves, the arts: promote the health and well-being of children, engage students more fully in school, motivating them to learn and succeed, help at-risk kids stay in school and graduate on time, play a key role in the development of a child’s cognitive, analytic and creative skills, build a child’s confidence and self-expression, offer students channels for emotional expression and healing. . . (The Center for Arts Education, 2014).
The arts help motivate students to stay in school and continue on with their education, encouraging them to not drop out in high school and to pursue a higher education by going to college. Today, the United States has more than one million students across the nation dropping out of high school each year (Israel, 2011). In New York, a study was conducted over the course of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, focusing on the impact that art has on at-risk students. The Center of Arts Education looked at more than 200 schools in New York and found that the high schools in the top third of graduation rates had 40 more physical spaces and most access and resources to art education, while the schools with the lowest rates of graduation had limited resources to art in their schools, some even absent of having art in their facilities. The findings from the study suggest that if the lower rated schools increased their access to the arts, their graduation rates will rise (Israel, 2011). The Florida State Department of Education conducted a two year study, also focusing on students who were at-risk of dropping out of high school before graduation and how art classes impacted these students and their school life. A survey was conducted on 40 students during this study requesting information about the positive impact that art classes had on them, with half of the students admitting to seriously contemplating dropping out of school (p. 25). The students wrote that their participation in an art class (these classes included band, art, and drama) is what persuaded them to stay in school until graduating because they felt they were actually “involved” and liked everything about their class (p. 25). One student said they could not drop out because they were part of the school plays and dropping out would disappoint everyone, “…especially the teacher. Plus, theatre will help me in later life, so I decided to get as much as possible.” (p. 13).
Doug Israel, the Director of Research and Policy for the Center for Arts Education (2014), believes that the way to turn around this pattern of drop out rates in the United States is to “be more strategic as we beat the drum,” (2012). Drum representing the present state of how education is conducted in the United State. By “be more strategic”, Israel means that the resources for creating opportunities for all students to receive art education need to be taken more seriously. “We need to form more strategic partnerships,” is one example he presents; partnerships with museums and outlets for the arts so that accredited art teachers can be integrated into the education’s staff force and opportunities to enjoy and create art are available to students outside of the classroom, as well as inside. He also states that more resources need to be shared with those who are “less familiar with the power and value of an arts education”, meaning those students who do not have as much opportunity as others because their school is not providing enough outlets of an arts education (Israel, 2012). “We haven’t given art enough credit for its value,” claims Gay Lynn Smith. “There are academic and social skills that no other discipline develops to the extent art does.” If art classes are taken out of the education curriculum, it is very likely that the motivation and drive of students will drastically fall and the rates of drop outs in American high schools is sure to rise. Everyone benefits from exposure to the arts, no matter what side of the brain one is more like, no matter what personality one might have, and no matter what one’s goals for the future might be. Leonardo da Vinci was not just a famous painter, he was also an engineer and inventor, who’s inventions could not have been without his creative side and artistic abilities. Einstein might not have been a painter, but he did play the violin, and he went on to develop the Theory of Relativity and explain aspects of our universe that some will never have come to comprehend in their lifetime. The arts are necessary if this nation is to make the right steps towards becoming a strong country full of innovative individuals that have the ability to tackle problems and solve the mysteries of this world.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Alban, D. (2012). The Health Benefits of Art are for Everyone. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
AudioEnglish. (2014). What does art class mean? Retrieved November 21, 2014.
BBC Earth. (2013, September 20). Awesome Elephant Artist: Extraordinary Animals (Parts 1-2).
Einstein, A. (1931). Cosmic Religion : With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (p. 97).
Feder, K. (2014). Expanding Intellectual Horizons. In The Past In Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory (6th ed., p. 170). Oxford University Press.
Florida State Department of Education. (1990). The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in
High School Dropout Prevention (p. 25). Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Google. (2014). Define art. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Israel, D. (2011, September 15). Keeping Students on Track to Graduation. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Israel, D. (2012). Staying in School: Arts Education & NYC High School Graduation Rates. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Israel, D. (2014). About Doug Israel. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Kolberdanz, K. (2012, October 23). Want Your Kids to Excel in Math and Reading? Teach Them to Paint. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
Palmer, J. (2008, March 6). Can animals create art? Retrieved November 21, 2014.
Lynch, G. (n.d.). The Importance of Art in Child Development. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
Smith, J., & Marsh, J. (2008, December 1). Why We Make Art. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
The Center for Arts Education. (2014). About CAE: FAQS. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
Yaremich, M. (2012, March 12). How the arts can improve SAT scores. Retrieved November 21, 2014.