Why is art not valued in education as much as other subjects such as STEM classes, especially in later phases of education such as high school or college? Starting from elementary school, many schools are lacking in art education through classes, funding, teachers, and more. Some students choose to continue art throughout middle school, maybe they enroll in weekly art classes. However, once they reach high school, in preparation for college applications and in high stress environments such as competitive high schools, art activities often get dropped in favor of STEM classes or debate. By the time people reach adulthood, art and other creative activities are out of the window, yet creative thinking is needed more than ever in competitive jobs. Why is art education so important, and why is it not being taught as it should be?
Why is it important as a child?
Creativity is key to society and important for most jobs, but creativity is rarely found amongst adults in the workforce. Children, however, have reached peak creativity, and the problem becomes maintaining and developing creativity when there is the most opportunity. At this age, participating in music, art, acting, and dance helps them maintain creative thinking while also developing plenty of other skills. A few include pattern recognition, emotional development, discipline, risk-taking, memory, resilience, and self-confidence. These are all important life skills that can easily be taught through learning how to play an instrument or acting in a school play.
Why does it matter for teenagers?
Art is still just as important now as during childhood. Again, developing creativity through art-based classes and extracurriculars helps teenagers to develop life skills that will benefit them in higher education and the workforce.
Art has also been shown to have benefits for one’s mental health. Margaret Naumburg, viewed as the founder of art therapy, believed that creative expression helped children have healthier upbringings. Through art, one can express feelings and stress that they have trapped inside, but don’t know how to verbally explain. Art therapy is used at all sorts of ages but is particularly useful among teenagers. Traditional methods such as Talk Therapy make participants unwilling to open up and contribute to discussions, but through creative mediums such as visual art, they can express themselves while developing skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, patience, and persistence.
Students who participate in art-related activities are also less likely to drop out. Students with low socioeconomic status with fine arts participation were 5x less likely to drop out and twice as likely to graduate college. Students who have taken extensive art classes on average also score 100 points higher on SATs and are 4x more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Participating in arts during middle and high school helps prepare students for college, grad school, finding jobs, and adulthood.
Why does it matter when you are an adult/senior citizen?
Art mainly serves as a destresser and creative outlet. Similar art therapy, it gives people a way to express themselves in through a nontraditional medium.
As people age, art is a very effective way to maintain good cognitive skills while properly caring for one’s health. Dance has also been shown to have many psychological benefits in addition to the physical aspect. In a movement called Dance for PD, people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as their caretakers and family members, take dance classes together. Through dance, patients were able to rethink the way they moved, turning basic actions such as standing up and grabbing a glass of water into dance routines (stand up, turn, walk, open cabinet, take a glass, go to sink, fill with water). This methodical thinking helped them move when they got stuck. Dance also benefits the mind to body coordination, improves gait, memory, and helps lift participants out of depressive moods.
Music has also been shown to benefit people with dementia and Alzheimers. Listening, singing, or dancing to music can bring up old memories and bring them joy. Music reduces agitation and stress through the release of happy chemicals such as serotonin, prolactin, and melatonin. Listening to and playing music helps people destress and live happier lives.
Why is Art Education Not Being Taught?
School budgeting is usually directed more towards STEM classes and other “educational” courses. Teachers and school directors argue that of all the topics they could teach, art is the least important in the real world. Students use their knowledge from math in everyday life, and knowing how to paint won’t get someone a job. While it may be true that math is used in more obvious ways in day to day life such as grocery shopping or paying bills, skills that art teachers are used in day to day life as well.
- 97% of schools don’t offer dance, 96% don’t offer theater
- 2008 study found that African-American and Hispanic students had half of the education rights to art education as White students
- Federal funding for arts and humanities lies around $250 million per year while the National Science Foundation lies around $5 billion
- Art education budget cuts effect schools in rural, poorer neighborhoods much more than urban schools
What can you do?
Similar to what Laura Mack did at her local school, simply brainstorming and presenting ideas to incorporate art education into students’ lives is plenty of help. If many people were to provide solutions and show interest in giving students art classes, the problem could be taken more seriously.
On a more personal level, simply engaging in art and working to spread art amongst your friends and family is very helpful. One could take art classes with their grandparents, children, friends, or even just take one hour a week to get together and draw or dance to music at home. Combined, these small steps could work to develop creative skills in your own small communities and spread them to more and more people.
“Art Education Matters, so What’s the Problem? | Laura Mack | TEDxSalem.” Youtube, Tedx Talks, 5 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRJ1jX27_E8.
“Arts Education in California: Taking Stock of Policies and Practices.” An Unfinished Canvas, SRI International, July 2017, nasaa-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/UnfinishedCanvasSummaryReport.pdf.
“Arts Education Navigator.” Americans for the Arts, 2013, www.miarted.org/pdf/AFTA-Arts-Education-Navigator-Facts-Figures.pdf.
“Art Therapy.” Good Therapy, 18 Apr. 2016, www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/art-therapy.
“The Benefits of Music Therapy for People with Dementia.” Alzheimer’s Family Center, 12 Jan. 2018, afscenter.org/music-therapy-dementia/.
Frank, Priscilla. “How Art Therapy Can Help Children Facing Mental and Emotional Challenges.” Huffington Post, 7 Apr. 2015, www.huffpost.com/entry/art-therapy-children_n_7113324.
Moon, Poppy K. “Reaching the Tough Adolescent through Expressive Arts Therapy Groups.” American Counseling Association, 12 Aug. 2006, www.counseling.org/resources/library/VISTAS/vistas06_online-only/Moon2.pdf.
Ruppert, Sandra S. “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement.” Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED529766.pdf.
Smith, Fran. “Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best.” Edutopia, 28 Jan. 2009, www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development.
“10 Arts Education Fast Facts.” Americans for the Arts, 6 Nov. 2013, www.americansforthearts.org/by-topic/arts-education/10-arts-education-fast-facts.
“20 Important Benefits of Music in Our Schools.” National Association for Music Education, 21 July 2014, nafme.org/20-important-benefits-of-music-in-our-schools/.
“Why Dance Matters.” Stanford Magazine, May 2019, stanfordmag.org/contents/why-dance-matters.