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The Importance of Art Education in the Classroom

Importance of Art EducationIn October 2019, the British street artist known as Banksy opened an online store called Gross Domestic Product and issued a challenge: to make a purchase from the shop’s selection of items like a Banksy-branded aerosol paint can, a brick handbag, and a vest worn in concert by the rapper Stormzy. Customers who wished to be considered for the opportunity to make a single purchase first had to answer the question: “Why does art matter?”

That deceptively simple, four-word query confronts a topic that’s occupied some of the world’s greatest creators and philosophers since Plato. How we answer this question can have much bigger consequences than whether you get to buy a piece of artwork from Banksy’s online store. The issue of art’s value becomes far more pressing when policymakers and administrators decide how to allocate time and funding for art education in schools.

Art teachers must be ready to advocate for committing the necessary resources to prioritize the value of creativity in the classroom. You may have to explain the importance of art education in a school’s curriculum and present the research to back up those claims. We can become powerful advocates for the power of art and improved student outcomes by investigating the many benefits that come out of integrating more creativity into the school day and improving our classroom strategies.


Why Is Art Education Important?

Anyone who’s passionate about the arts recalls formative moments of experiencing a work of art pushing through a creative challenge. When we’re exposed to remarkable artworks or have opportunities to create, we find that art is crucial to individual growth and development and can even impact our health.

A literature review from Frontiers in Psychology outlined several studies linking aesthetic experiences with broad improvements in subjects’ emotional states that promote physical and psychological well-being. Giving learners the time, space, and materials for creative expression can lower stress, improve memory, and make them feel more socially connected. Instructors can build their careers on bringing those experiences to students in a variety of settings, like galleries, museums, or events organized by nonprofit and community organizations.

Appreciation for art also makes a significant difference in people’s lives on a macro level. Entire societies may stand to gain from an investment in the arts. Drawing on data from the General Social Survey, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Public Administration linked participation as either an audience member or creator to higher levels of civic engagement and social tolerance. This work suggests that learning how to draw, paint, sing, or just appreciate the works made by others can help us become not just happier and healthier, but also better people.


How Does Art Education Help Students?

When surveyed by the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts, members of the U.S. public overwhelmingly agreed that the arts are one aspect of a well-rounded K-12 education. Yet, participation in the visual and performing arts is often treated as merely supplemental to other aspects of learning. As a result, there are major differences in access to art and music classes across the country.

2019 findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that eighth graders in the Northeast were much more likely to report being enrolled in a visual arts course than those in the South. Disparities were also tied to race, ethnicity, family income, and whether a school is located in a city, suburb, town, or rural area.

Meanwhile, the Nation’s Report Card shows that U.S. students continue to score lower than many of their peers in Europe and Asia on standardized tests despite years of pressure on educators to close the achievement gap. But seeking to improve student performance in math and reading does not have to come at the expense of art education.

In fact, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, argue that instruction becomes more effective when educators integrate creative activities and make them central to academic development. Across disciplines, including STEM, there’s room to reimagine classes with a strong emphasis on drawing, painting, playing music, performing drama, and other creative pursuits. Encouraging students to use their imagination can help them actively engage with new concepts and discover connections between ideas as well as provide advantages for their social and emotional well-being.

One example of effectively integrating creative expression with other fields as a pedagogical strategy can be seen in the collaboration between University of Florida faculty members Susan K. Jacobson, who studies wildlife ecology and conservation, and Robert C. Mueller, who teaches printmaking. The UF professors collaborated on an interdisciplinary project in climate change communication in which groups of graduate students from both the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the College of the Arts visited the university’s Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory. The students participated in learning activities like scientific lectures, discussions, and making collages before working in small groups to create environmental communication materials for visitors.

As this example shows, students benefit from learning to embrace insights from multiple disciplines, and this can be valuable when they go on to pursue jobs. A 2019 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that employers are interested in hiring professionals with skills that can be strengthened through participation in the arts, such as written communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and taking initiative. Art teachers can help students become more well-rounded and capable individuals by teaching them to develop original ideas through creative projects and practices.


The Importance of Art Education for Children

It’s never too soon to introduce kids to the possibilities of creative expression. As outlined in a literature review from the National Endowment for the Arts, a variety of studies demonstrate the value of embedding artistic practice into early childhood education. Imaginative activities for young learners can lead to better skills in social interactions and emotional regulation.

Lessons in the arts introduce K-12 students to problem-solving techniques, which help them to see the world in new ways, and provide access to creative ways of knowing. Kids discover how art can communicate their own ideas and may become interested in creating increasingly realistic depictions and mastering new techniques. By high school, young artists can think critically about their own work and that of others, establishing a unique point of view and a sense of community with other creative individuals.

The National Core Arts Standards provide a framework for advancing students’ artistic understanding. This structure breaks down the developmental stages from Pre K through high school into 10 anchor standards. In each stage, students build creative habits as they learn to:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Organize and develop ideas and work
  • Refine and complete artistic work
  • Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation
  • Convey meaning through the presentation
  • Perceive and analyze artistic work
  • Interpret intent and meaning
  • Apply criteria to evaluate work
  • Make art by synthesizing and relating knowledge and personal experiences
  • Deepen understanding by relating artistic ideas to societal, historical, and cultural contexts

Pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass outlined the benefits of art education in schools in the New York Times, noting improvements for overall motivation, thinking, and academic achievement. An arts-integrated curriculum that asks students to draw or sing as part of the learning process may enhance their ability to recall material such as scientific principles or vocabulary. Foregrounding creativity can be especially effective for students who struggle to retain information from traditional lectures and reading assignments alone.

Art does matter in the classroom, delivering a wide range of advantages for students. Educators can make the most of that potential by equipping themselves to offer creative practice as a central feature in the curriculum and show decisionmakers how these initiatives can achieve transformative results. The University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Art Education (MAAE) program helps teachers make a difference. This program features courses that prepare educators to work in a variety of learning environments, support students of all ages, incorporate digital tools into their pedagogy, and foster critical thinking.

About the Online Master’s in Art Education from the University of Florida

The University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Art Education (MAAE) program engages students purposefully in art education theory and practice, contemporary art, and their own studio work. Our dynamic online learning environment fosters meaningful interaction with peers and our world-class faculty as members of a supportive, close-knit community of art educators, artists, cultural workers, and scholars. This flexible program brings you the advanced concepts and immersive, hands-on experiences you need to flourish academically and creatively.

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