Why Bother Having Art in the School Curriculum?

As teachers, students and schools become so jam-packed with activities intended to produce socially contributing, life long learners that many aspects of the school experience become pushed aside. Parents and school boards continually pressure teachers to give students knowledge and skills which will benefit them after primary school. Obviously, this has good intentions behind it.

However, when so much focus is placed on the language arts, science and mathematics portions of the school day, other, seemingly unimportant subjects may be given less focus, or abandoned altogether. A prime example of this is art education. Art has become a small section of the school day, which is often provided to students only if they need to ‘busy’ themselves or as a reward for completing the more ‘beneficial’ subjects. I believe that by undermining the importance of art in school, students and teachers alike are missing out on many opportunities for meaningful development. In her article “Art Really Teaches”, Dr. Violet Robinson discusses how art can be helpful and effective in the areas of personal development, social development, physical development and language development. I agree that art holds many opportunities to explore these areas with, and within our students.

Although school professes to be a place where students learn about the subject matter within the curriculum, it is easily seen that the most meaningful learning that occurs is on a much deeper level. Personal development, when properly and successfully encouraged, enables students to achieve a sense of positive self-concept, high self-esteem and high self-efficacy. Art as a form of personal expression and creativity can greatly benefit students in their search for identity. Through the creation of concrete objects and pictures, storytelling and emotional expression, students are given an avenue where they may take responsibility for their work, and where they can, hopefully, create with a sense of achievement and without judgment.

Along with personal development, schools are a place where students experience social development, often to an extent greater than any other place in their lives. Art can foster positive social development through group projects, which allow for a sense of group accomplishment and cooperation, and the sharing of personal stories and ideas. Art offers a way of communication, which, on a very basic level, is interdisciplinary and multilingual. This may offer students from various backgrounds the opportunity to share and experience together, without language barriers. The creation of art and the expression it encourages may serve to develop the forms of language other than spoken and written form. Art provides a means of communication which may or may not include written and spoken language. This makes it inclusive and, hopefully, accessible to people of all levels of development and all cultures, something which cannot be said for many subjects.

As art may take almost unlimited forms, it can often serve to increase and aid physical development in students and teachers alike. For example, sculpture may take active form, expression can be found in dance and movement and dexterity, rhythm and coordination can all be found in various art forms.

It has been documented that the gravitation towards art tends to diminish throughout the school years. This may be due to lack of instruction of basic ability, the tendency of students to think that art is best left to those with natural ability, and, as mentioned earlier, the view of art as an unimportant part of the curriculum. As mathematics has been considered ‘the great equalizer’ among students, I believe art is ‘the great unifier’. Art, when properly introduced, taught and encouraged, holds the potential to give students a lifelong avenue for expression, development and learning.

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