If society could design a public school curriculum that would give each student the opportunity to engage in an activity that improves hand and eye coordination, bolsters reading skills through increased word recognition and promotes an understanding of mathematics, it would be shortsighted to shun it. A child who feels the satisfaction of successful learning will experience greater self-esteem, which usually leads to even more scholastic achievement. There is a valuable program that can help meet these needs in a student body with diverse learning styles and abilities: Art Education.
Budgetary limits often encourage public school administrators to excise art education as a luxury they can no longer afford. But studies have shown that students of all ages who are exposed to art in school do better scholastically because the art class offers a mentally refreshing change of pace and a hands-on experience.
Man’s inherent need for creative endeavors can be traced to evidence in early cave drawings, the intricate mosaics of the ancient Roman Empire and the enduring paintings and sculptures from the European Renaissance. Early civilizations recorded their history in pictures; the quaint signs on the shops of Europe’s old towns are examples of graphics that foretold the business within before reading was commonplace. The paintings and sculptures we revere in the museums of the world are representations of fashion, home décor and architecture as well as religious beliefs and natural landscapes of the past (and sometimes the future) as seen through the eyes of an artist. Viewers of these works need not read or speak a common language to appreciate what they see. Therefore, art does not create semantic divisions, but draws people together in a more universal awareness of the world.
To deny our children some education and experience in art rejects the influence that the crafts have had on our country’s development. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s spurred the growth of cities through a massive proliferation of manufacturing facilities for producing goods that had previously been made at home or imported from Europe. The age of shoe shops, hat factories, textile mills and machine shops changed an agrarian society forever. Farmers, immigrants and others seeking their fortune were drawn to the cities and established small businesses to meet the needs of urban dwellers: medical, food, clothing, transportation, and so on. Likely to be the most innovative (and successful) were creative personalities who used their talents in advertising services, decorating business spaces, and competing in the marketplace.
In a wave of suburban growth following World War II and the ensuing global competition for the marketplace, many urban factories were abandoned and left to decay. Eventually, the combination of low rents and large workspaces encouraged artist communities to move in to these available properties.
Self-supporting artisans offered new and unusual products for sale, and as their businesses grew and hired workers, they revitalized and increased property values in their neighborhoods. In Massachusetts, the formerly industrially oriented cities of Haverhill, Fall River and North Adams have experienced an art-induced rebirth. Art plays a significant role in the lives of Sedona and Santa Fe residents and the lifestyle of Naples (Florida), Bellingham (Washington), and Traverse City (Michigan) is strongly influenced by art.
Art education is integral in many careers that have evolved to meet the needs of society and will continue to be a force in the design of furniture, clothing and jewelry. Along with mathematics and physics, artistic ability is a noticeable and useful talent in those who pursue careers in architecture, civil and mechanical engineering. Many adult engineers can recall an early interest in detailed drawings and model making.
Artists and their imagination reveal the past and spur innovation with big ideas of future possibilities. Did Orville and Wilbur Wright learn anything from Leonardo DaVinci’s detailed drawings of flying machines and experiments with gravity? Did Henry Ford consult DaVinci’s drawings before he built his first automobile? What did the medical profession learn from Michelangelo’s drawings and sculptures of the human form? Are any of us unaffected by the graphics of political cartoons or the antics of a World War II flying ace beagle? How would we relate to prehistoric ages without an artist’s drawings and sculptured models of dinosaurs who previously roamed our land or the cartoons of Fred Flintstone and Barney trying to deal with middle-class life in the Stone Age?
Although art enrichment programs are emerging as private businesses where interested children can explore their interests, what of the children without the advantage of such instruction to realize their potential? Children learn in different ways, depending on identifiable characteristics in their learning style. Visual learners acquire knowledge by reading and observing; auditory learners take in information by reading aloud or listening to others, and kinesthetic learners need to be actively involved in a hands-on experience.
Public schools should stimulate and maximize the talents of all students by offering courses that encourage a wide range of interests and are designed to build on natural strengths. Who will encourage tomorrow’s visionaries? Which of our schools wants to be the one that ignores and possibly suppresses the talents of the next Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney or Charles Schulz? Do we really want to take the risk that photographers like Ansel Adams, painters like Georgia O’Keeffe, and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright may find their own way without the encouragement of our education system? Cutting art from the curriculum of public schools sends a message that it’s unnecessary and frivolous—and it’s not! Our public schools must find a way to fulfill their mission and provide the essential elements of a balanced curriculum designed to meet the needs of their students.