Is Art Education Undervalued?
When we think of “education”, we usually think about math, sciences or business. Whenever we hear that someone is pursuing an education in the arts – whether fashion, fine arts or film – our first reaction is usually one of the following: “wow, that’s so brave” or “isn’t it better to keep it as a hobby and get a real degree”? Here’s another question then: why isn’t art a real degree in itself? Why do we commend people for pursuing a career or education in art for their bravery just because we (the majority) chose the “safe” or “traditional” route? Creativity seems to have lost its importance and is crying out to be heard in a sea of intellectuals and businesspeople. The main problem lies with governments’ and school systems’ priorities in creating national economic prosperity versus placing equal weight on creating art or appreciating artistic undertakings which creates an enriched cultural and social life. Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts put it simply, “there’s a flaw in the logic that says to count is to be economically productive, but to create is not.”
When schools face budget cuts, art programs are the first to be considered non-essential and are removed from curriculums. Even under regular circumstances, “arts classes are overlooked as easy “A” classes or non-strenuous side hobbies” – Christina Ring, alumni of Tahoma High school in Washington. Failing math or science classes are non-negotiable, but if a student were to fail an art class, it doesn’t matter because “not everyone is artistic” – how many times have you heard that before? Most schools don’t even store enough art supplies to cater to all students, or even the ones who are genuinely interested. Academic classes limit the students’ creativity leading to increased stress because students are expected to perform in accordance with strict guidelines. For example, writing follows specific guidelines and is scored for how well students follow them which makes students dread having to write. When writing, as an art form and just like any other, is subjective in its creativity.
Over the years, many organizations in favor of giving students access to arts programs have popped up all over the world. An example of this is Project Art, an NGO in New York City, created with the goal of providing free art classes for kids after school in public libraries where they can dive into the materials and explore their creativity, something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The creation of Project Art was encouraged by the fact that not all schools in the city offer arts, music, theatre or dance and more than a quarter of the city’s schools had no full-time certified arts teacher in 2015. To expand their reach, Project Art started an initiative where they placed blank canvases outside public libraries to encourage New Yorkers to get in touch with their creative side. Today, Project Art has grown and is available nationwide in the United States, in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans and more.
The benefits of art education are countless, but the most important ones include not only positive impact on academic performance, but also on students’ social lives and mental health. According to Project Art, 94% of students are more confident after the program and 72% improve their expression of thoughts, emotions and feelings from discussing their art projects. It’s these same soft skills, like empathy, communication and coaching that are now more important and in demand for “top jobs”, according to research about the skills and qualities of top employees at Google. If you won’t take it from me, take it from Steve Jobs himself, “We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.”
“When you think about the purposes of education, there are three. We’re preparing kids for jobs. We’re preparing them to be citizens. And we’re teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two.” Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction in Arizona.