Is Art Really Necessary Anymore? – Skinny Artist

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?
Sources:
https://skinnyartist.com/pin/infographics/why-arts-education-is-important/
http://www.childrensmusicworkshop.com/advocacy/topteneveryone.html
http://performingartsconvention.org/
http://www.artinaction.org/w/whyart

 

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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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(16) comments

Fabulous post – When I read some months ago that schools were considering the elimination of cursive, I almost cried. No kidding. I still consider learning proper cursive writing one of my greatest accomplishments :) It seemed like absolute magic to be able to guide my pen to make those fantastical designs, to know they represented words – a way to communicate that I now held the key to. It’s not that cursive is critical to anyone’s everyday life, but the elimination of it seems to take away some of the magic.

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    Thanks Deanne! As I mentioned in the post, my own cursive writing was pretty atrocious but I think you’re right, this whole idea that if something is unable to be used to earn a buck it is then useless.

    That loss of “magic” that you mentioned is kind of sad. Somewhere along the way, we have deluded ourselves into believing that we’ve got this whole world figured out and we no longer need the vagary or squishiness of things such as beauty and art. Not only have we come to believe this as a society, but now we’re passing on these types of beliefs on to our children.

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My neck hurts from nodding so much. And while I’d leave it at that, I’m most afraid because I have two children in that school system of which you speak. Two children who are (WARNING: Ego-statement coming up in 3…2…1…) lucky to have me as a mom, one who will keep them interested in their creative endeavors (wherever those might lead). But it takes effort…and you are right. I fear that we are in the minority. That makes it all the more important to keep on doing what we do, no?

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    I hope you’re right Lisa that our efforts will be enough. I worry sometimes about our priorities as a society, but I also realize how grumpy-old-manish that makes me sound. It seems every generation at some point feels that the world has somehow lost its way. Having said that, I do have faith that the creative spirit will continue to find a way to express itself, especially in those few kindred souls who are willing to take the time and listen to what it has to say. For now we will keep up the good fight!

    P.S. Your kids are in fact lucky to have you! :)

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Hello Drew
Without getting too wordy, I completely agree with the points you raise here, in the negative and in the positive.
An education in the various forms of arts also enables a person to have a better grasp of when they are being deceived or manipulated. Through drama classes (when they are good) there is greater likelihood for responsible participation in society and it develops a greater empathy among people for one another. The list goes on and on. The main thing is that a person with an arts or cultural training (depending on how you define these things) is a better person. Whereas a person lacking in these areas but with good administrative skills (such as are taught in schools) makes a good employee and not much else.

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    Thanks Tom and I think you nailed it when you said that our school curriculum seems to be increasingly more designed to create good employees rather than well-rounded human beings. I also had to laugh when you added the caveat about drama classes being beneficial “when they are good”. I remember being involved in some shockingly bad improv sessions in high school. Like anything else in school, so much depends on the teacher you get. Unfortunately, so many of these kids now, will never have the opportunity to even experience really bad improv ;)

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Drew, this is a wonderful post and heart felt as I too share your observations. Only just recently I have voiced my concerns to our children’s school who seem to think that an intelligent child should become workaholics at the age of 7. With so much being crammed into the school timetable and numerous home works being given each week (two text book exercises, mathletics, bug club (online reading record and questions) plus a traditional reading record it seems our children, as well as testing at an early age, it seems that somewhere the child’s voice has gotten lost. Children come alive (just as we adults do) when engaging in artistic activities, it allows them to express themselves truthfully. With so much expected at school and then pushed on them to do at home – as parents we have to ask ourselves who’s best interests are at heart, where is the time and energy for creativity at home?, for free time for imagination to flow and true enjoyment of learning? If our children are in such intense and controlled environments. The sad truth is, and this happened only a few weeks ago that the children who want to really be creative at school are found that they cannot do so.. Often there is only one group allowed to do collage that day or one sewing group etc, art – in my opinion one of the truest forms of expression we have in this world – is left as an occassional activity. It’s no wonder our kids today feel exhausted and feel frustrated and limited at school. Another example in relation to writing, is that our daughter (7) was asked to improve her handwriting and then a week or two later was ‘told off (daughters words’ for not writing fast enough. The whole education system could do with refocusing to become child centred and based on enjoyment and nurturing our children as creative individuals. Schools listen to the government to enforce the cirriculum. i say enforce because presently children are punished ( ie. loss of priviledges – golden play time) if homework is not completed regardless of them being too tired, unwell or just not enjoying the work. Children listen to the schools but my question is are the schools really listening to our children? And if they are who is feeding back to the governments as to the children’s needs wants and presences? Surely our children should have a choice, have a say. xxx

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    I agree with you Atalina that there seems to be way too much curriculum crammed into the school day. As a former teacher myself I remember all too well sitting in curriculum meetings and shaking my head with the amount of material we were expected to cover. The thing is, nothing was ever taken away, they always just added more and more stuff and of course the school day never got any longer to compensate. Then there are the state mandated proficiency tests where the results often determine the level of state funding the district will receive in upcoming years. So needless to say, we were “encouraged” to spend class time preparing our students to do well on these tests.

    Unfortunately, all of this curriculum cramming results in the non core subjects (i.e. art, music, gym, drama, etc…) get reduced or essentially squeezed out in the process. These are considered non-essential “electives” by most school boards and are treated accordingly. I do think it’s sad that it’s our children who end up missing out. All we can really do as parents is to give our children creative outlets after school. To show them, hopefully through our own art, that creativity and imagination are something that still have a place in our productivity driven society.

    Thanks again Atalina for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts with us! :)

    Reply

Hi Drew,
Budget cuts are not going to stop with the economy still in the ruts. As artists we can fill in the gaps in public education by getting together and offering art classes to our communities.Together we can make a difference!
Melinda

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    You’re right Melinda, unfortunately budget cuts are not likely to end any time soon, especially when it comes to something like school funding that is so dependent on local property tax funding. I think your idea of filling in the gaps and offering art classes to our communities is an excellent idea. It not only exposes kids (and adults) to the arts, but it also helps to reinforce the value of continuing art/music/drama programs in the schools. As usual, we can’t rely on the government and school boards to defend the arts so maybe it is time for us to step up in our local communities and show them exactly what they are missing!

    Reply

Thank you drew, it’s wonderful to know that other parents are conscious of this. Melinda, your right, we can make a difference. I don’t run classes but did so an arts and crafts afternoon two weeks ago for the children and they were so enthusiastic and creative, it was great to see. I saw some news recently about France and proposals to abolish homework there altogether and make the week shorter. I personally would love to see a reform like that in the UK. To give the children greater freedom and energy to explore the arts or even just the great outdoors – to build dens, climb trees, press leaves, make perfume from rise petals and generally have adventures and learn about the world in natural ways, unpressurised at a pace that suits them without tests. We have a lot of creativity in our home and take our children to museums to appreciate artworks of all kinds, our daughter goes to performing arts at the weekend to do music, dance and drama… But i feel that in many ways schools are letting our children down with their output based curriculums and one size fits all approach to teaching. It would be interesting to know how many parents have similar feelings or more importantly how the children feel and what changes they would like to see. Thanks for this opportunity to discuss x

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Thank you Drew for saying what needs to be said. As a retired teacher of the visual arts who was ALWAYS aware of this attitude about art being a “frill” lurking in the hearts of taxpayers every where, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that this is a class issue. The well-to-do and our leaders have no fear of their children being deprived of the essential gifts of the arts, because they send them to private schools that never question their value. With the onset of the digital age, anything that can be counted, counts and anything that can’t be quantified, doesn’t ( for the least of us or most public schools). And the folks that are gazillionaires have decided everybody else’s’ kids don’t need the arts. Please see Diana Ravitch’s blog, there’s more information there, and a bit of hope too. People are starting to wise up to the hypocrisy of this attitude.

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[…] is the practical purpose of art and how does it help society advance? Is art and music education even necessary anymore now that we have entered the information age that is based on computers, data, and mathematical […]

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TRISTEN JONES

WHY DON’T WE HAVE TO PAINT, COLOR, DRAW, EXPRESS ARE FEELINGS HUH! THE WORLD NEEDS ARTISTS SO IT CAN BE BEAUTIFUL AND NOT BE SO BLEAK !

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Mackenzie Woodley

Drew! Your post is fantastic and inspiring ! Im writing a paper on supporting the arts in education for college and your article was the most helpful. Please keep writing articles like this and spreading awareness so that future students have a chance.

Thank you!

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    Thank you so much, Mackenzie for your kind words :) I really appreciate you taking the time to share them and I wish you all the best!

    Reply
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