Why do we consider art and music “extra” additions to core curriculum? Is it necessary to teach emphasize these subjects in our children’s educations? Read to learn the importance of art education in school curriculum.
Whenever schools make cuts in the services they offer, typically the first subjects on the chopping block are art and music. Many teachers of the arts are forced to learn to advocate for their fields. It is essential to have an ongoing conversation as a society about the importance of art education in school curriculum.
There are actually several angles to think about when it comes to arts education. We teach students how to create or perform art. (For example, band, choir, visual art class, drama, etc.) We also teach how to appreciate art and understand the culture and time period in which the art was produced.
Each of these aspects of art education is equally important.
Arts Education: Teaching How to Create or Perform
Teaching kids how to create art and perform music has many benefits to the child.
Music education teaches your brain to engage several different processing centers at once. When creating music, you are using your ears, your eyes, your large and small muscle groups, your logic-reasoning center, your memory, and also your emotional center. Giving your brain a chance to perform all these functions at once has its rewards. According to studies, students who study music may have higher IQs and score higher on tests. Einstein famously turned to music when he was feeling “stumped” in his research. He described to the famous musical education visionary, Shinichi Suzuki, “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.” (Read more on this here.)
In the article, “The Benefits of Music Education,” author Laura Lewis Brown states, “Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas.” Of course, we use songs and rhymes to help us remember all kinds of facts. Music easily integrates into the teaching of other subjects. These are compelling arguments for keeping arts in the curriculum, but something doesn’t quite feel right to me about legitimizing arts educations because it helps students perform better in math and science. I think arts education should be given merit in and of itself, but more on that later.
Practice, Practice, Practice
No matter how much talent your child was born with, the arts require discipline and diligence in order to master them. Learning to play an instrument, for example, is something that happens incrementally through continuous practice and learning. There is no shortcut. You simply must put in the practice. This is an important lesson for kids to learn. Especially in today’s world where we are used to quick rewards, it can be challenging for kids (and parents sometimes) to have the patience to get through those early learning stages of instruments.
The self-discipline it takes to make practicing a habit is a character trait that can benefit many areas of life. The persistence your little artist learns when day after day they see themselves improving in their craft will instill confidence in them. When kids are able to correlate work to reward, it helps them develop a growth mindset, which I discussed in more detail here as it relates to math. The bottom line is this: our ability increases with our effort.
Collaboration, Cooperation, Accountability
Band, choir, theater, and perhaps some visual art and design projects require working together as a team. Students learn important interpersonal skills. They learn that they are accountable to a group to take care of their responsibilities, learn their parts, finish their part of the work, and so on. They also learn how to communicate their own ideas and listen to others’ points-of-view. Finally, they learn how to take someone else’s idea and add their own talents and abilities. Children learn these lessons in cooperative environments, not in subjects that merely require learning facts and taking tests.
Arts Education: Art and Music Appreciation and History
There is perhaps no greater way to understand what life was really like in the past than by looking at the art it produced. Visual art, literature, poetry, theater, and music give us insight into the thoughts and feelings of the past. Just this past week, I took my kids to our local art museum. The antiquities section always amazes us. The collection includes statues, figures, jewelry, etc. from several hundred years BC. These works of art become the legacy of the age. It is how we know what was important to the people who created them.
The same is true of music. The music written in an era gives us a window into the lives of the artists. Studying history through the lens of art and music gives humanity to the facts and dates. And the teaching of the arts in turn gives us the ability to contribute to the ongoing narrative of history.
Art for Art’s Sake
As I said before, I make a plea to teaching the arts for the sake of the arts, not simply because they help boost math and science scores. When people think of “artists”, they too often think of the stereotypical starving artists of the world whose work will not be appreciated or valuable until after they’re dead. But think of all the artists out there that are making our world more beautiful today: graphics designers, illustrators, architects, writers, actors, authors, musicians, songwriters, movie producers and screenwriters. We consume a lot of produced art in our society, even if most of it is used in marketing.
So we should raise artists. If a child is naturally gifted at an artistic pursuit, we should value that in society and help them find their place.