I frankly find discussions about whether art is important enough to be taught in schools rather unfortunate and somewhat ridiculous. It seems to me that the importance of the arts to education is a no-brainer. However, various educational systems seem to determine otherwise. I was asked to offer my observations concerning this topic, so I have provided a couple of random thoughts here:
When I was a child, I perhaps owned a few colored markers, BIC pens and #2 pencils that were the extent of my available art tools. My father used to work at a print shop and so despite the fact that I wasn’t well-equipped, I was fortunate to have ample paper on which to sketch and draw. In elementary school, I was encouraged to produce posters for art contests, to act and sing in school plays, and even participate in public speaking. I grew up in an era in which public art was everywhere—especially on subway cars and shop gates. In fact, a whole new genre of art developed around me: hip-hop. Because of the city I lived in, I had ample access to the fine arts. My sisters and my school programs would take me to the MET, MOMA, and occasionally to attend Broadway shows. I was essentially a poor kid, but lucky to have an inspirational world of art all around me. I certainly am a testament to the fact that the arts contributed to my success in school. I use what I learned from my arts experiences to express myself with all kinds of projects from illustrated history timelines to creative writing to musical slideshows (today’s PPT presentations). Effectively, I use what I learned for my arts experiences to become the design professional that I am today. I help inform, communicate, entertain, and educate and I’m proud of the fact that I can do this.
Priorities are screwed up.
See, I grew up in the 1960s-70s in South Bronx. In those schools today, over 42 percent do not have state-certified arts instructors. It seems that there is a hierarchy of academics in America, and arts education tends to fall pretty low on the totem pole. The lack of arts education in schools is indicative of a larger cultural issue that undercuts arts education seemingly for the sake of higher test scores. Art has well established itself as important in the field of architecture, industrial design, ethnography and graphic design, all of which are vital to technology development, product promotion, entertainment and overall communication. Every salesperson, for example, values a high-quality presentation that has meaningful and interesting visuals and sounds that help them do their job. Corporations and entrepreneurs alike apply and value the arts as it pertains to successful business. Not teaching kids to express their ideas through sketching, art, and performing is simply a mistake.
Giving the joy of art to our kids.
My wife and I have supplemented our kids’ arts education by providing private piano, sax, guitar and even crocheting lessons. They can use our computer to create animations and augment their photographs. They understand creating in three dimensions by using web-based software and our 3-D printer. They understand how to apply spices to an array of dishes. They draw comic books and produce live-action movies based on hand drawn storyboards. Early indications are showing us that our kids are benefiting from this exposure. They look at their world and imagine ways to improve it. They use the tools and experiences that we provided for them to think, design, render and build those possible improvements. They’ve learned to tell stories to illustrate points or to shed light on an issue. They’ve designed products as school projects that speak to social justice. They are gettin’ it.
I’ve read about many cases of schools using arts integration methods effectively. The importance of art in child development is well documented. Visual learning helps with language development, decision-making, and motor skills. There are many ways to make school subjects such as history, literature, math and economics interesting through music, dance, film and visual art learning components. Teachers simply need to be innovative enough to merge art concepts with other educational content. Discussing art elements related to school subjects helps to create visuals that help foster understanding. Educators know that different learning models that address visual learning are important and successful. It’s important to prioritize art in a manner that is respectful and elevates its importance in society. Anyone can find studies whose results site improvement in language arts and math scores and promote less absenteeism. I find that a school day full of color, interesting images, engaging content, and inspirational music is just going to make the kids want to come back tomorrow. Isn’t that the point?
About the Author
Currently earning his masters in Media Arts and Sciences at IUPUI, Sosa is a veteran graphic designer in Indianapolis. He also has served as adjunct professor in Design for Ivy Tech and Franklin College. He has performed on local stages and organized local art shows for Latino artists. He values Art. He is also an Arts Council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellow (Round 8).