The Benefits of Visual Art Education
Sunny Kay Harrison
A research paper presented to the graduate faculty of the University of Nebraska – Kearney in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master in Education-Art – Art Education.
Bachelor’s of Science in Art Education, University of Louisiana Lafayette
This paper explores the idea of how art benefits the human mind. Interdisciplinary arts education allows for academic subjects to be bridged together in such a manner that connects disciplines across the curriculum for the development of meaningful student learning. Through exposure and learning about visual art, students become engaged and are able to relate art to the world around them and other academic subjects. A student-centered curriculum allows for teachers to teach exactly what is relevant and needed for their students. Visual art education has a way of captivating students and capturing their attention, making them want to explore and try new things. Students are encouraged to work together and interact in a social setting. Visual art is the glue that connects the dots to the other subjects, allowing students the opportunity to make sense of their education. Becoming visually literate enables students the use of art education to make sense of the world around them. The idea of teaching art through visual culture allows students of varying and diverse backgrounds; including but not limited to socio-economic levels and physical or mental disabilities, to weave their experiences outside of school with new lessons introduced inside the school. The discovery and collaboration that occur in the visual art room allow for students to achieve a more complete understanding of life, making the world around them culturally relevant and bringing them closer to obtaining a whole mind, which is undeniably needed for the 21st century.
The Benefits of Visual Art Education
Visual art is around us everyday, everywhere we go, whether humans know it or not and can recognize or realize it. The study of visual art education has been around for centuries, but not without a battle. The fight for teaching visual arts has long been a struggle. Dating as far back as medieval times, art education in Europe was thought to be for the socially elite, mainly men. It was a sign of wealth to have an appreciation and acquisition of art. Since the early nineteenth century visual art education has gradually risen in American schools. For decades, advocates of visual art education have reached out to school districts, law makers, and the media to prove the significance of art in education. There has been a struggle to keep art in the public schools and there certainly are differing views concerning its personal or principle value. Some have a difficult time understanding it’s importance. What visual art education in America has struggled with the most is gaining popularity with the majority of the population. Researchers, advocates, philosophers and teachers have worked diligently towards educating society about the importance of the arts in education.
Charles Fowler (1996) speaks of art as being a huge part of our humanity and a way of finding our personal meaning in life.
The arts provide a more comprehensive and insightful education because they invite students to explore the emotional, intuitive, and irrational aspects of life that science is hard pressed to explain. Humans invented the arts as a fundamental way to represent aspects of reality to try to make sense of the world, manage life better, and share these perceptions with others. The arts therefore enrich the curriculum by extending awareness and comprehension while affirming the interconnectedness of all forms of knowing. This is why an education without the arts is an incomplete education. (p.4)
For years, visual art education has been in limbo, attempting to prove it is equal to other school subjects and is an essential component to a child’s education. Research has indicated for years that visual art education has positive and direct benefits for student achievement in math, literacy and the sciences, as well as engaging students in higher order thinking, and developing problem solving skills. High arts-involved students report watching fewer hours of television, participating in more hours of community service, report less boredom in school, and statistically score higher on the SAT and ACT exams. Art education is the thread that ties all subjects’ together allowing the world, and all of its students, to see beauty in life. Funding for art programs, all across America, are being cut due to its “lack of significance” in schools. Researchers are continuing to find evidence that visual art education plays a vital role in a child’s education and teaches numerous skills, which are commonly overlooked.
Fran Smith (2009) states,
Arts Education 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. (p.1)
21st century skills
Now more than ever, the visual arts need to be funded and taught in all schools to provide an equal, well-rounded education to all students, enabling them to become well-rounded adults. Visual art provides the human race with the means to record history in a non-verbal manner, which can leave lasting impressions and ideas to expand and grow, on the Earth and its many cultures and societies for possibly millions of years. Students need a foundation in the arts, and the skills developed by arts education, to prepare for the economy of their futures. Visual art education should be valued and respected throughout for the bridge that it connects between so many oceans of thought.
Kerry Freedman (2003) says it best,
We are on the edge of a new artistic renaissance. Images are becoming more pervasive than texts, new audiences are seeing the visual arts in new ways, and artistic methods, such as portfolio assessment, have gained currency even in general education. An essential responsibility of education in the future will be to teach students about the power of imagery and the freedoms and responsibilities that come with that power. (p.314)
Visual art education has the capability of engaging students visually, in addition to connecting other subjects and the outside world. The point of teachers teaching “is not only to promote knowledge for students’ personal gains, but to engage students in thinking about knowledge as part of social life” (Freedman, 1994, p.158). Students need to understand the postmodern world in which they live. Curriculum should have a greater focus on the impact of visual forms of expression across traditional boundaries of teaching and learning, including boundaries of cultures, disciplines, and artistic forms.
There are hundreds of books, magazines, and literature on the Internet about visual culture as it pertains to art education. Teachers continuously struggle with the decision of how to adjust the curriculum in order to keep up with changing times. Despite the lack of consensus for a ‘perfect’ curriculum among teachers, it is clear that visual art education may need to expand to include more aspects of visual culture because of the influence that imagery has on today’s adolescence. The term visual culture can be defined as “all that is humanly formed and sensed through vision or visualization and shapes the way we live our lives” which encompasses “the fine arts, tribal arts, folk art, television and other performance, housing and apparel design, computer game and toy design, and other forms of visual production and communication” (Freedman, 2003, p.26). Since visual culture includes almost everything, shouldn’t teachers pay attention to this broad topic of discussion? The following review is taken from many different sources in order to address the importance the role of visual art education has on the human mind.
“Visual culture is emerging as an “interdisciplinary” study. It is so young that it has not solidly ground itself to any one discipline” (Ballangee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001, p.7). All experiences shape our lives, and visual culture is included among these everyday experiences. Amburgy, Keifer-Boyd, and Knight (2009) state it simply as “visual culture is significant because it presents ideas and stories that shapes people’s lives” (p.45). Sometimes these influential life experiences happen in school, but they can also happen outside of school. In fact, many educators would argue that most critical life altering experiences occur outside of school where the teacher has little or no control of the situation. It is apparent that “art educators ultimately help shape attitudes, develop particular tastes, and impress ideas about art, education, and culture on students” (Tavin, 2005, p.112). Since all experiences help to shape a young student’s life and not just the subjects studied in school, students need to be able to discuss these visual experiences in order to understand them. Visual Culture Art Education connects the outside world to what the student is learning in the art room. Tavin (2002) states, it is “through the process of interpretation, our students negotiate their history, ideology, desires, expectations, and multiple and ever changing identities through advertisements” (p.38). Just as outside experiences can hinder learning experiences inside the classroom, I believe that discussion inside the classroom can enhance experiences outside of the classroom. If students can bring their own experiences into the classroom, then they will be more motivated to learn and to make valuable connections, through a student-centered curriculum. “The arts–creative writing, dance, music, theater/film, and visual arts—serve as ways that we react to, record, and share our impressions of the world” (Fowler, 1996, p.4). Using visual culture images in the art classroom helps to captivate the interests of the students. “Students gain experience in relation to their cultural contexts and cannot simply put it aside when the demand to view or produce art is made” (Freedman, 1994, p.162). Art education has the capability of engaging the mind in such a way that keeps the student involved and interested. There is no ‘right’ answer in art. Students can explore, connect new ideas and learn from what they feel were their successes and failures without negative consequences. Increased confidence can lead to increased motivation and effort, which in turn can and should result in higher achievement. “Students who are involved in the arts are more motivated, more engaged, more sensitive, and more focused, creative, and responsible. They perform better in all aspects of school including academic achievement” (Fowler, 1996, p.7).
The arts can reach a wide range of learners. Not every child learns in the same way. The arts, by their very nature, embody multiple learning modalities— visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile—helping all students learn. Students who struggle in other academic arenas tend to flourish in art. The freedom to express our inner thoughts in a visual way and share these thoughts with feedback is priceless. The vast spectrum that art education offers can lead to students not only valuing art, but gaining a greater understanding of its importance in our everyday lives. Communication is key in the 21st Century, along with design and innovation. Karin Evans (2009) states, the “arts teach students how to learn from mistakes and press ahead, how to commit and follow through.” We are at a crossroads of preparing the future generation for skills of jobs that don’t even exist yet. The 21st century skills needed
We must tap into the minds of these students giving them a way to experience, understand, and express the world and our relationship to it. “Awareness of the world of art and the concepts, language, and approaches used in responding to art not only helps students understand and appreciate the art of others but also increases students’ sensitivity to their own artwork” (Day & Hurwitz, 2007, p.17). The visual arts have long been thought of as a place for misfits and people in need of releasing tension, as a type of therapeutic process and with good reason. The visual arts speak a visual language, developing a visually literate population. Verbal language barriers do not seem to matter when it comes to teaching people how to appreciate, analyze, and create works of art.
Silver (1978) states,
Drawing and painting, like dreams and daydreams, can tap the unconscious—condensing, symbolizing, and expressing experiences. Language is the usual medium of psychotherapy, and talk about drawings is the usual medium of art therapy, but art therapy, but art experience can be healing in itself without talk, if need be, by fulfilling wishes vicariously, ventilating feelings, reducing isolation, and providing opportunities to cope with problems and to adjust to disappointments. (p.18)
Any person can find inner peace and personal gains and understandings through learning about art. The arts are a powerful vehicle for communication, a way to express visions that are beyond the capacity of words. “Art procedures that emphasize communication, adjustment, enjoyment, and exploratory learning can help children with communication disorders and children with learning disabilities develop concepts of space, order, and class” (Silver, 1978, p.18). Visual art education is for students and humans of all walks of life. Anyone and everyone can find success through art, from young children to the elderly and from a highly intelligent person to someone who is mentally challenged. “Participation in the arts also is an important strategy for engaging and motivating students at risk of dropping out of high school and for those with special needs” (Ruppert, 2006, p.14).
Gaining a Whole Mind
Creating visual art is a personal experience—students draw upon their own understandings and resources to produce the result and thus getting closer to gaining a whole mind. The goal of visual art education has shifted from what was once thought to be important not so long ago. “While art educators place art from the museum realm at the center of their curriculum, their students are piecing together their expectations and dreams in and through popular culture” (Tavin, 2003, p.197). Art history is still valued, but the ever-changing world we live in has prompted us to look deeper into our surroundings and make connections to our everyday lives in hopes of gaining a better understanding and a whole mind. The arts are “one of the fundamental repositories of human wisdom. They educate the imagination and develop originality. They represent significant ways for students to discern, express, communicate, figure out, and understand the human universe” (Fowler, 1996, p.6). Schools have an obligation to involve children in the visual arts at the earliest possible time and to consider the arts as fundamental—not optional—curriculum areas, because arts experiences build cognitive, emotional, and psychomotor pathways (in the brain).
Interaction, Participation, and a Sense of Belonging
The visual arts can transform the school and environment for learning—making schools places of collaboration and discovery. The way in which art classrooms are organized allow for students to interact engage with one another and work together sharing materials and ideas, learning from one another through discussion and critique. Patricia Stuhr (2003) states that she believes “art education to be a caring, social space where critical investigation of and through relevant cultural production can be facilitated by teachers to help students to inquire into the complexities and possibilities for understanding and expressing life and death in new ways” (p.303). The visual art room provides students with the opportunity to solve problems using skills such as analyzing, as they might in the real world. Hetland and Winner (2007) state “students in art classes learn techniques specific to art, such as how to draw, how to mix paint, or how to center a pot, they’re also taught a remarkable array of mental habits not emphasized elsewhere in school. Such skills include visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes” (p.1). Students exposed to the visual arts become more committed people by learning to follow through and see things to the end by questioning themselves throughout the process and finding connections with careful curiosity and independence that give a sense of self-confidence.
The NAEA states,
As a nation we are close to reaching a collective understanding that all students benefit from the opportunity to learn about and experience the arts. Study of the arts in its many forms—whether as a stand-alone subject or integrated into the school curriculum—is increasingly accepted as an essential part of achieving success in school, work, and life. Yet, at the same time we celebrate the arts for the value they add to learning and to life, study of the arts is quietly disappearing form our schools. In schools across the country, opportunities for students to participate in high-quality arts instruction and activities are diminishing, the result of shifting priorities and budget cuts.
The time to act is now. Our future generations are at stake. Visual art teachers must make a stand. We have to speak loudly and from the heart. We have to stand up for what we believe in. Art education does matter and does make a difference.
21st Century Learning
We have a responsibility to educate future generations about the endless opportunities that a whole mind can offer and that every person must envelop in order to succeed in the 21st century. The visual arts teach people how to use empathy, design, synthesis, and contextual thing, all of which are right brain thinking skills and critical to life, relationship, and job skills in the future. “For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking” (Hetland & Winner, 2007, p.3). Art is a language of visual images that every one must learn to read. More than ever people are experiencing the world around them in a visual manner. Individuals who are unable to understand or respond to visual images are incompletely educated. We must educate our students on the importance of 21st century skills, so that they may begin to develop communication skills, collaboration skills, and critical thinking skills. It is only then that they will reach their full potential and grow.
Visual art is relevant to daily life and connections to other subjects can give purpose and meaning to why students are creating art. It is interdisciplinary. “Art should be taught as it is experienced by students in their daily lives and it therefore necessarily needs to be connected to other subject areas” (Desai, 2003, p.157). Research leaves no doubt that visual art enables students to make connections and understand other subjects better, but the visual arts need to be valued more for what they can teach that no other subject can. The visual arts allow students to think differently, in a way that they are unable to in other classes. “The arts humanize the curriculum while affirming the interconnectedness of all forms of knowing. They are a powerful means to improve general education,” (Fowler, 1996, p.4). Visual art education has the capability to pave the way for this new approach to education in our complicated and revolutionary visual society. “The arts need to be front and center in education—taught in their own right to enable students to experience the range a nuance of meaning making across artistic disciplines” (Davis, 2008, p.3).
When visual arts content is connected to content in other subject areas (such as math, language arts, science and social studies) through mutually reinforcing objectives, student learning deepens in both areas. Students learn to see the connections and big concepts across disciplines. “Our goal in education is the transfer of learning, to give students understanding beyond what is taught directly so that they can use their knowledge elsewhere” (Silver, 1978, p. 18). Interdisciplinary work in the arts is important because it enables students to solve problems and make meaningful connections. Interdisciplinary curriculum gives students the opportunity to generate new insights and to synthesize relationships among ideas. Sloan states, “participating in the arts can actually boost student achievement in other academic areas…young people interested in “doing” art—studying and performing music, dance, and drama—may also demonstrate increased motivation to learn in other subject areas, which leads to improved cognition.” As visual art teachers, we must focus on creating a stimulating curriculum that encourages our students to be life long learners. “One justification for keeping the arts has now become almost a mantra for parents, arts teachers, and even politicians: arts make you smarter” (Hetland & Winner, 2007, p.1). There is no doubt that the visual arts teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed elsewhere in the curriculum. “With a subject matter as broad as life itself, the arts easily relate to aspects of almost everything else that is taught” (Fowler, 1996, p.5). When art is no longer isolated from other subjects the importance of the discipline will be self-evident. “When used well, the arts are the cement that joins all the disparate curricular areas together…the arts, in conjunction with other aspects of the curriculum, afford students more complete and compelling conceptions. They provide another panorama of meaning and knowing” (Fowler, 1996, p. 4). A visual arts-integrated approach makes any subject more interesting, especially for the students who do not thrive in the structure and culture of today’s world.
Elliot Eisner (2008) states,
Imagination is the source of new possibilities. In the arts, imagination is a primary virtue. So it should be in the teaching of mathematics, in all of the sciences, in history, and indeed, in virtually all that humans create. This achievement would require for its realization a culture of schooling in which the imaginative aspects of the human condition were made possible.
Imagination, creativity, and innovation are essential for the future educators of the world.
We must find ways to capture our student’s short lived attention spans and encourage them to think deeply and across the board. “The ability to envision can help a student generate a hypothesis in science, for instance, or imagine past events in history class” (Arts and Smarts, 2009). The possibilities are endless if we can assist in helping our students piece together the puzzle of not only school, but also life. “Eliminating boundaries between the schools and communities and making connections across subjects develops a nurturing and relevant learning environment” (Daniel, Stuhr, & Ballangee-Morris, 2006, p.8). Human beings exposed to the visual arts are more well-rounded and well-prepared thinkers of the world. Art education just might be the answer that we’ve been searching for. The answer to the question of, how do we get these kids to think?
Fowler (1996) states,
The arts compliment the sciences because they nurture different modes of reasoning. The arts teach divergent rather than convergent thinking. They ask students to come up with different, rather than similar, solutions…the arts usually do not demand one correct response…they break through the true-false, name this, memorize-that confines of public education. (p.4)
Visual art and artists mirror evolution in ways science cannot. As an example, a scientist’s work is validated when another scientist can replicate the original science. Art loses validity when replicated. Art education does something most subjects can’t do in one class period. It reaches every domain of learning in Bloom’s taxonomy. Students are reaching the highest levels of analyzing, evaluating, and creating on an everyday basis in visual art class.
Davis (2008), says it well stating,
“In experiencing works of art, students have the chance to see different school subjects interrelating and making a unified or cohesive statement…the opportunity to integrate the learning they are doing in various subjects and to express the interrelationship of ideas and feelings that they are discovering in and out of school…the arts open many doors to students and offer unique and important encounters with making sense of learning and putting it to use.” (p.5)
Keeping Art in Schools
When school districts are financially challenged the arts are always the first on the chopping block. Some researchers say that students exposed to the arts have higher and better test scores, while others argue that these students with the higher test scores are in better schools and are simply lucky enough to have art. In a national study using a federal database of over 25,000 middle and high school students, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized achievement tests than students with low arts involvement. With all the pressure on test scores and politicians making big educational decisions, art is seldom considered of great importance. We must find a way to keep visual art in the schools. “The arts in our schools are essential. They shed light on and give direction to the foundations that science provides” (Davis, 2008, p.13).
If we are wanting to educate our future generations in hopes of helping them develop a whole mind and critical thinking skills, we must teach them how art encompasses us and we must start with the idea of visual culture. Freedman (2006) states, “an education in visual culture must include an opening up of disciplinary boundaries if we want students to understand ways in which the past lives in the present and future” (p.26). Successful visual arts education programs are thriving in some communities across the country. Where arts programs thrive, students are learning in the visual arts with high engagement, expressing ideas in a variety of arts languages, and engaging in creative and reflective work. We also see students learning through the visual arts, meeting objectives in both, and art forms and other subject areas while constructing and demonstrating understanding in highly creative and personal ways. “The lessons that the arts teach about the skill of interpretation and an attitude of mutual respect may affect the performance of a child in any other discipline or any other classroom in which student voices are heard and honored” (Davis, 2008, p.68). One particular lesson is learning the art of critique. It teaches students to move forward with their work by offering constructive criticism. “By exploring how an artwork works or doesn’t work students and teachers can gain a more complex awareness of the world and themselves” (Daiello, Hathaway, Rhoades, & Walker, 2006, p.322). This is an informed, multi-faceted way to communicate verbally. It is an important lesson in life about how to be visually literate. “The arts are competing intensely, but at great disadvantage, for limited and diminishing funds. If education in the arts is to attract more resources, a more effective case will have to be made about how the arts contribute to the prevailing priorities, whether they be competitiveness, our economic future, our workforce, or school reform” (Fowler, 1996, p.6). This can be done. We need students who are culturally literate. Visual art education is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Relation to the Outside World
Visual arts experiences help students construct knowledge that connects themselves and each other, giving them valuable and much needed social skills. Visual art develops social skills and teamwork, encouraging students to share ideas and help each other. “Art is a vital part and contributor to social life and students have the possibility of learning about life through art. At its root, the purpose of art education is not to educate people about only the technical and formal qualities of artifacts but to extend the meaning of those qualities and artifacts to show their importance in human existence” (Freedman, 2000, p.324). The visual arts develop young people’s abilities to express their personal vision and communicate it to others. In a world as diverse as ours, it is undeniably important that we teach our youth to value and respect our differences while remaining true to their own beliefs. Wasson, Stuhr, & Petrovich-Mwanki (1990) say, “it is an opportunity to discover the connections that bind us to others in the world, and to gain an international perspective. It is an opportunity to decrease negative stereotyping based on gender, race, religion, politics, age, ethnicity, and/or physical and mental ability” (p.243). Instruction in the visual arts affects social skills including positive social behaviors, social compliance, ability to express emotion, courtesy, tolerance, conflict-resolution skills, ability to collaborate, and attention to moral development. “This new understanding of culture that is linked to power assumes that all art forms are socially constructed. Therefore, the production, consumption, and appreciation of art can only be understood within social, and cultural contexts” (Desai, 2003, p.152). Art teaches students to evaluate and make good judgments about qualitative relationships. It reminds us that the limits of our language do not define the limits of our thinking. Visual art is a language that can unite us. “When we investigate and experience the art of our own and other cultures in such a way that encourages an open exchange of ideas between learners, teachers, and community, we create effective art learning environments that assist individual growth; empower the individual, other individuals; foster critical thinking; and encourage social action” (Stuhr, Petrovich-Mwanki, & Wasson, 1992, p.24). Visual art celebrates multiple perspectives and different ways to see and interpret the world, enabling us to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of doing.
Living in the Present Day
The philosophy of visual culture is that we are living in an image-driven world and the experiences and emotions that we are seeing on a daily basis must be decoded and spoken of as the new way of teaching art education. Elizabeth Garber (2004) believes that by uniting educational theories and approaches, education can relate and make the world a more “livable and joyous place for all, with a balance between humans, the environment, and other human beings” (p.16). Visual art is a building block of civilization. A civilization that does not value its artistic expressions is a civilization that does not value itself. If we do not teach our children, and ourselves, that what we imagine, and how we design the world, can make a difference, the culture of cynicism will do that for us. “Discussion of visual culture in school as a foundation of identity formation through group membership provides a forum for students to have structured conversations about the communities to which they belong that can initiate learning experiences in the classroom” (Freedman, 2006, p.27). Students will learn to make connections in the visual art class to the world around them, which includes school subjects, theme parks, TV commercials, movies, music, toys & games, church, magazines, and more. “Negotiating these dynamics between experience and interpretation in terms of power is necessarily a challenge” (Desai, 2002, p.321). Knowledge of the visual arts is an indispensable foundation for enlightened citizenship in our increasingly complicated world. It is the epitome of self-expression and individuality for both creator and appreciator. Visual art is a physical manifestation of visual culture that condenses and presents things such as product design, cuisine, advertisements, gardening, fashion, magazine and newspaper art, vernacular motion pictures, television shows, and video games. “In our rapidly changing world, it is our responsibility to harness the transformative power of art in order to educate the next generation of students to become informed and critical global citizens” (Desai, 2005, p.306). Visual arts experiences that develop skills of communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity are needed for students to succeed in the competitive global economy and work place. “The inclusion of visual culture and contemporary art in curricula forces us to deal with ideas and issues that have the potential to teach us the most about our lives in the contemporary world” (Knight, Keifer-Boyd, & Amburgy, 2004, p.270). Art gives pleasure and meaning to our daily experience, enriching our lives with aesthetic moments, something we need in today’s world. “Popular culture offers immense opportunities for escape, fantasy, joy, and dreaming” (Tavin & Anderson, 2003, p.34).
We must use visual art education as a means for moving forward in a fast-paced visual culture. Tavin and Anderson (2003) state, that “our identities are shaped and limited, in part, by available linguistic codes, cultural signs, and representations” (p.23). We need to use visual culture as a way to study the images that impact society or the way in which society and culture impacts the images we see. Tavin (2002) states, “visual culture is a site of convergence and contention across disciplinary lines that helps break down artificial barriers and undermines confidence in canonized knowledge” (p.39). There are potential manipulations of the popular culture on our students. Through visual art education students can learn to critically reflect on media influences in their lives.
Looking Towards the Future
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” We live in an increasingly complex, diverse, global, media-saturated society. Education is being reinvented to meet the needs of our ever-changing world. Students have to be able to function, create, and communicate personally, socially, economically, and politically in local, national, and international venues. “It is the creation of unique images and objects, the freedom of making a statement, enrichment gained through the investigation of visual media, and the power of symbols to communicate that enable students to go reach outside of themselves, going beyond consumption and appropriation to become contributing members of larger communities and cultures” (Freedman, 2006, p.27). We are in need of the visual arts more than ever, because the arts develop lifelong skills of critical and creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration, reflection, and persistence. “At a time when globalization and technological advances rupture national and cultural boundaries, artists are increasingly called upon to work in different sites across the world” (Desai, 2002, p.320). Our future generations must be able to work with people from all over the world. Our new age demands the ability to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields, to detect broad patterns, to put together the pieces, and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. “Students can be inspired by the arts to reach deeper within themselves and stand in awe of dimensions of life we can not fully grasp—to contemplate our fragile and temporal being and the meaning of life in the vastness of the cosmos” (Fowler, 1996, p.6-7). Preparing students for the 21st Century involves helping them generate new ideas. Upcoming challenges require students to develop skills in communication, collaboration, and creative thinking. In order to reach their full potential and grow into self-motivated learners, children’s natural curiosity and explorative spirit must be nurtured. Creatively alive children will become tomorrow’s leaders. “We need more and better arts education to produce better-educated human beings, citizens who will value and evolve a worthy American civilization” (Fowler, 1996, p.4). The competencies that everyone will need to succeed in the 21st century can be learned through instruction in the visual arts. Quality academic instruction should include visual art education.
Strong Arts Strong Schools states,
The arts are not perceived as subjects for serious study in American schools. Ironically, the self-interest of American business is unaware of what the arts could contribute to the future workforce. If American youth were sharpened, sensitized, motivated, and made more creative and whole by the arts, American business would be the ultimate benefactor…We need more and better arts education to help make young people into productive and perceptive citizens, people who can understand and appreciate our ethnic diversity, communicate effectively, and think for themselves; citizens who recognize and respect good craftsmanship and can judge their own efforts by the highest standards; citizens who are receptive to experience and want to learn. (p.19)
The primary purpose of education according to is to enable students to make a living as adults. That being said, we know where we need to be going, yet are heading in the opposite direction. Politicians are attempting to move education back in time. “As educators, it is part of our responsibility to provide for the investigation of multiple perspectives and options for living life to its fullest in an ever-changing technological world” (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001, p.9). Critical thinking skills are the key to what our students need and this is precisely what visual art education offers. Art helps students understand the past, question the present, and prepare for the future. “Action, thought, and vision are interrelated in contemporary theory. All three are important aspects of the cultural practices that shape our lives” (Keifer-Boyd, Amburgy, & Knight, 2003, p.45).
Children are being educated for jobs that don’t exist, yet. The American workplace is changing; but we can anticipate some qualities that future employers will be looking for. We know that teamwork will be valued, along with the ability to problem solve and demonstrate flexibility. Future employers will want employees who are able to address complex social issues, devise creative solutions, and imagine new worlds and possibilities. Visual art education encourages students to solve problems, to think creatively, to take risks, to make decisions, and to work cooperatively in groups. A man by the name of Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” The 21st century skills are visual art skills. Art education teaches our students what no machine can, through artificial intelligence and Google. Visual art education has the capability of moving our students into the future with the abilities needed to be successful members of society.
From the beginning of time visual art education has fought for the respect it deserves. Socrates even rejected the pursuit of art, believing that it blurred the quest for truth. What would the world be without visual art or if people didn’t have opinions about the art that surrounds them? Today, more than ever, young people need the visual arts. The visual arts are a forum for expression, communication, exploration, imagination, and cultural/historical understanding. Brain research confirms that Arts education strengthens student problem-solving and critical thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement, school success, and preparation for the work world. Visual art classes provide students with a chance to develop cognitive and creative skills, and to develop their imaginations. For some students visual art is their motivation for coming to school and an area where they have success or excel, providing an important balance in a whole mind educational experience. The visual arts teach our students to be more tolerant and open through multicultural and historical perspectives and through their involvement in the creative process itself. Due to the collaborative nature of visual art, students develop crucial skills in cooperative decision-making, leadership, clear communication, and complex problem solving while working with others. Regular participation in the visual arts develops self-confidence, self-discipline, persistence, and the knowledge of how to make multiple revisions to create high quality work. The skills and experience that students develop by learning to perform, create, and respond to works of art provides a foundation for the kinds of literacy students must have to communicate and work successfully in our ever-changing media, technology, and information age. Visual art education supports not only the adolescent¹s intellectual and educational development but also their personal and social development. Visual arts education helps develop a positive work ethic, flexibility, and pride in a job well done. Simply put, visual art education benefits the human mind.
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