Public schools all over the country have cut back on education funding over the past five years because of the recession, and Colorado is no exception. Locally, we have seen the loss of high school home economics and shop classes. The middle school has had to shorten art, physical education and music education to one per trimester. They also had to find a way to fit in the new technology class. It is obvious why technology is important, of course, nearly everyone uses computers at work now. Also, with the growing obesity problem in the US, most people understand why we need physical education. However, it is often not as clear to people why art and music are so important.
Our Girl Scout troop attended the popular exhibit, Becoming Van Gogh, at the Denver Art Museum in January 2013. Since we have a variety of ages in our multi-level troop, it was interesting to see the different reactions of the girls and I am still finding out what they were able to learn or discern from the exhibit. It was easy for me to see that the oldest of my girls who attended the event, who is herself an artist, benefited. By seeing how Van Gogh's style changed over the course of his career and how the influencing artists and styles of those artists assisted in those changes, she may feel encouraged to try new things. However, I looked at my younger girls and I wondered what it is they are really getting out of this experience. They seemed bored and restless had had to take book breaks on the ottomans in the center of the room. I worried that they didn't get anything out of it, but I was wrong.
Children are being taught several left brain developing subjects at school, such as math, science and reading. However, they need balance in training both sides of the brain. An article I recently read on the website, Raise Smart Kid: Bright Child, Bright Future, called Benefits of Arts to Kids, states, “The right brain is used in emotional perception, intuition and creativity. It is the right brain that is mainly used when a person is involved in creative endeavors such as making art. It is this part of the brain that typical school environment neglects to train.” The right brain is the one we use when we are drawing a picture, singing, and inventing things. The article goes on to talk about gifted students and how they are really using both sides of their brains when they solve problems.
Problem solving skills are listed as some of the most important skills for employ-ability for many types of jobs, like customer service, negotiation, computer programming and almost everything. For computer programming problem solving is critical. In order to solve problems, you have to learn how to think for yourself, not just recite what is learned by rote. I found a wonderful quote by Robert M. Gagne, an educational psychologist, that really sums it up,..."the central point of education is to teach people to think, to use their rational powers, to become better problem solvers" So, if we are teaching children to think and solve problems they will be more employable, and generally be better at surviving.
I have heard a lot of artists at symposiums and in classes say that when they are working on art, they are getting 'into their own heads'. If you have been involved in the creative process and 'gotten into your own head', you may be able to relate to this quote from Nikola Tesla, “The pressure of occupation and the incessant stream of impressions pouring into our consciousness through all the gateways of knowledge make modern existence hazardous in many ways. Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is going on within themselves.” He seems to be lamenting the lack of introspection in society as a whole. The process of creating art gives us the time and the vehicle to the introspection that leads to creativity. Tesla was an inventor. Hand and hand with problem solving skills, comes innovation. He was a Serbian who immigrated to the US and is known for many important inventions.
On the global market, it has been Americans' abilities to invent things that has kept the US ahead of the rest of the world, in technology, in the last century. Probably the best example of a recent, modern inventor is Steve Jobs. Although super-smart, he had struggled with formal educational settings and even after he dropped out of school at Reed College in Portland Oregon, he audited creative classes such as calligraphy. He also had supportive adults around him who nurtured his interest in electronics. He was the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple. He was an innovator and clearly saw the importance of art. In his article for Smithsonian Magazine, A Tribute to a Great Artist Steve Jobs, Henry Adams writes, "It’s clear that Steve Jobs was an artist and that his artistry worked at many levels: it was a visual sensitivity that extended outward to a way of thinking about how things worked and how different variables could interact with each other in a pleasing harmony." Art is important no matter what you end up doing for a living.
I have often heard parents express concern that their children are not getting the quality of education that children in bigger, higher tax based, school districts receive. According to an article I read on Edutopia, the arts can help make the education of lower income children and children from smaller communities, more equal to that of affluent children by incorporating more arts experiences into their lives. In her article, “Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best : Art and Music Key to Student Development”, Fran Smith says that children who engage in the arts do better in academic subjects, like science, math and writing. Smith says that the arts help close the education gap between economically challenged children and kids with wealthy parents by changing or enhancing their perspectives. It seems too, that when you study an artist, you also study the time and political climate and culture in which they lived. You talk about how he was received by critics and the public while he lived and how perceptions may have changed later on. You talk about what influenced those changes.
There is a lot to it, such as types of materials used, how access to resources influenced artist techniques and styles and other sub-categories such as what the artist may have been thinking or feeling. Certainly, studying an artist and doing art are both important parts of this type of education. You can try to put yourself in the artist's shoes and see how you would do it differently and why; or just do your own thing and come up with your own ideas.
When you are working on art, yourself, you learn what you are capable of and how you want to improve yourself or which techniques interest you. When you work on a group project with others, you learn cooperation and how to share ideas. Interacting with others is hard, especially for kids in the middle school level, but it leads to the ability to work in groups as an adult.
I am using our Van Gogh experience to kick off a section of time in our Girl Scouts year in which we will do several individual projects with different mediums. Then we will do two group projects as part of a Journey program that we are working on. I am hoping that these experiences will help the girls in academics, problem solving, inventing, and in developing social interactions. I hope they will be inspired to pursue art experiences on their own. All in all, the value of experiencing art is vast. In this day and age, the kids can use all the help they can get. It is my hope that they will thrive.
Raise Smart Kid - Bright Kid Bright Future by Unknown
http://www.raisesmartkid.com/3-to-6-years-old/4-articles/33-benefits-of-... accessed 1/16/2013
Education Funding Drops In More Than Half Of States by Unknown, September 2012 http://ww.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/education-funding-drops-i_n_1855... accessed 1/16/2013
A Tribute to a Great Artist Steve Jobs by Henry Adams October 2011 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/A-Tribute-to-a-Great-Artist--... accessed 01/16/2013
Why Arts Education is Crucial, and Who's Doing it Best
Art and Music are Key to Student Development by Fran Smith January 2009
http://www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development accessed 1/16/2013
Toward a Meta-Theory of Problem Solving by Unknown
http://web.missouri.edu/jonassend/problems.htm accessed 1/16/2013
Nikola Tesla Biography by Unknown 1996 A&E Networks
http://www.biography.com/people/nikola-tesla-9504443 accessed 1/16/2013
Problem Solving and Analytical Skills by Unknown Updated 2010 University of Kent http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/problem-solving-skills.htm accessed 1/16/2013
I also read the Wikipedia articles on Steve Jobs, Robert M. Gagne and Nikola Tesla.