The Importance of Art Education

I have always believed in the importance of the arts in education. Having done theater with kids for so many years, I know how kids can grow with those experiences. I always intellectually believed in the visual arts, but I gotta tell ya, now that I am teaching art, especially these last few months, I have a whole new appreciation for art education.

I think there are a couple of reasons why I am seeing this now. First, I have taught lots of subjects. In history you can always pull in the art work and music to demonstrate life in a particular period. In math you can talk about line and shape, yet there is more to those concepts. You’re not actually teaching the art, however.

Secondly, I am really trying to break the art assignments into easy segments so the kids can be successful. So it forces me to, one – do the assignment, and two – look carefully at how it goes together. My conclusion this week?

Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines, Parallel lines…

As we are doing all the boxes and perspective, the amount of math I am reinforcing is just amazing. I really had no idea.

And I don’t think a lot of art teachers realize this. I’m not trained in teaching art, so I am fumbling along and learning. Art educators have specific goals in mind, and probably don’t always see where the assignment is going, in terms of other disciplines. The only reason I can is because I have taught other subjects.

The other realization this week was the inability of kids to copy, or work with a set of directions. The kids weren’t (for the most part) able to transfer from a small grid to a large grid, going step by step through the instructions. My Somali girls interpreted the assignment by drawing a different grid (and the arrows for directions on the grid) each time. Being able to look at a small piece of a design and analyze where and how those lines were created was very difficult.

This is an amazing skill that kids can get through visual art classes. Taking care in completing an assignment – I’m seeing that now that the kids are having success creating the basics – they are willing to spend the time finishing their work. This is so different than taking care in completing a math assignment – but it’s bound to carry over.

So by cutting the arts – both visual and performing – we continue to short-change our children and their development, as well as that of our country. I think it was John F. Kennedy who said the mark of a civilization is in its arts. If you read earlier posts on this blog from the beginning of the school year, you will read my frustration at having to plan for yet another class. Yet this has been a blessing to understand on such a personal level just how valuable art is to children.

PS – I brought my own art supplies home this weekend – I want to do some of these assignments!

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