Is Art Really Necessary Anymore?

Is Arts Education Really Necessary

Hold on…

Before you start firing up the torches and sharpening your pitchforks  — hear me out.

Since you’re here at a site called Skinny Artist, I’m going to assume that you’re either a fan of the creative arts, or you simply ended up here by way of a misguided Google search for diet pills.

Look, I know that supporting the creative arts is worthwhile.

As a card-carrying liberal arts major complete with multiple useless degrees and a poor career outlook to prove it, I’m with you.  I believe the creative arts enrich our lives both as a culture and as individuals.  In fact, this is one of the reasons there’s an entire website here designed to support the online creative community.

Now having said that, I can’t help but feel that we are in the minority here.

Hardly a week goes by anymore that I’m not reading about some school district that has decided to eliminate (or reduce) the arts, music, and drama departments in order to focus on their “core subjects”.


Quite frankly, it’s getting a little irritating.

Just last week, I read an article about a school district that was considering a plan to eliminate cursive handwriting from their elementary school curriculum and replace it with “keyboarding skills” (aka typing class). 

Reading and writing, arithmetic and grammar do not constitute education any more than a knife, fork and spoon constitute a dinner. ~John Lubbock

Now I have absolutely nothing against teaching our children how to type on a computer keyboard. In fact, I feel bad for those poor souls who are forced to type out their emails or their TPS reports by hunting and pecking for each individual letter like some deranged chicken.

Actually I think typing (or “keyboarding skills”) should be a mandatory course for everyone at some point in their academic career, but to eliminate cursive writing from the second-grade curriculum because we’re no longer writing long flowery love letters to one another seems more than a little short-sighted.


I mean, seriously?!

Now let me just say upfront that my own cursive writing was so atrocious that my teachers actually requested that I stop using it somewhere around sixth grade.  So with sincere apologies to you beautiful calligraphors out there, I have no great love for cursive writing itself.  What I do object to, however, was the idea they gave for its elimination.

Cursive writing was deemed “unnecessary”and “impractical” in today’s digital age. In other words, we don’t need it any more because the only way we communicate is by typing with our thumbs.

Hmmm…. where have we heard this “impractical and unnecessary” argument before?  

Maybe every time one of our arts, music, or drama programs are eliminated in one of our schools or local community.

I’m sorry, but when exactly did creativity and personal expression become unnecessary to our growth as a society?

Look, this not about cursive writing. It’s more about our priorities and what’s really important to us as a culture.


Understanding the true value of an Arts Education

The true value of an arts education goes far beyond learning how to draw, sing, or play a musical instrument. Getting involved with the visual arts, music, and theater not only broadens our perspective and helps to promote social tolerance, but it gives students some real academic advantages as well.

For example research has consistently shown that:

  • Musical involvement promotes better math skills.
  • Students with band and orchestra experience attend college at a rate twice the national average.
  • Art teaches critical thinking rather than just getting the right answer
  • One in three of today’s school-aged children will hold an arts-related job at some time in his or her career.
  • Music training is linked with both short and long-term memory improvements
  • Theater participation helps develop social tolerance
  • Art reminds us that the limits of our language do not define the limits of our thinking.
  • Music training is associated with an enhanced ability to read
  • Art demonstrates that problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer.
  • The arts provide new challenges for students who are already considered successful in the classroom.

In other words, taking an art, drama, or music class isn’t just about having something to do besides study hall,  it’s about going beyond the rigidity of “right” and “wrong” answers and instead looking for those little subtleties that surround us.

After all if you were to only listen to your Math and Science teachers, you might begin to think that everything in life has been defined, proofed, and dissected. However much of the natural world around us still remains a mystery and if History (a liberal art) has taught us anything, it is that it’s usually a good idea to run far away from those who claim to have it all figured out.


It’s not just me either. . .

Here’s what some other people a lot smarter than me had to say about the importance of creativity and the benefits of having arts and music educational programs in school.

“I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st century.” ~Gerald Gordon

“A grounding in the arts will help our children to see; to bring a uniquely human perspective to science and technology. In short, it will help them as they grow smarter to also grow wiser.” ~Robert E. Allen

“The rapidly evolving global economy demands a dynamic and creative workforce. The arts and its related businesses are responsible for billions of dollars in cultural exports for this country. It is imperative that we continue to support the arts and arts education both on the national and local levels. The strength of every democracy is measured by its commitment to the arts.” ~Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation

“The making of an artist is more than the training of hands; it’s the training of the eye, the ear, and the listening heart.” ~William Gough

“The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting, and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.” ~William Bennett, Former US Secretary of Education

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~Lyndon Johnson

“GE hires a lot of engineers. We want young people who can do more than add up a string of numbers and write a coherent sentence. They must be able to solve problems, communicate ideas and be sensitive to the world around them. Participation in the arts is one of the best ways to develop these abilities.” ~Clifford V. Smith, President of the General Electric Foundation

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality.” ~John Rushkin

“Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.” ~Bill Clinton

“Study the science of art and the art of science.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

“The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think of something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”  ~Albert Einstein


What do you think?

  • Why do you think a solid arts education curriculum is (or is not) worthwhile in our schools?
  • What types of arts programs have you seen eliminated or reduced in your area?
  • Do you believe these school districts and politicians are being short-sighted or do you think that our priorities have simply changed with the times?


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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book “Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work” is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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