Art education is one of those subjects that many people see as an “elective” in the school curriculum. However, there are a number of valuable learning opportunities that people often overlook. Too often in education people look at the final product but they fail to see the process that the student went through in order to create that product. Art education is more than creating pretty pictures. Rather, it is a process of discovery, critical thinking, and interpretation. Here are a few thoughts on the value of art education in today’s schoolhouse.
Art is often about seeing things and trying to interpret them with our complex brain. In addition to seeing, it is also about understanding what is being seen so that it can be explained or interpreted in a different way. Art is about understanding how color, light, shadow, depth, and meaning all contribute to the creation of an object or a picture. Despite the fact that this phrase is overused, a picture really is worth a thousand words sometimes. However, art is about understanding what those words are and what they mean to the observer.
Another value of art education is that it can develop a sense of creativity. The concept of creativity can be a bit nebulous, and people debate whether it can be taught or whether it is innate within a person. The answer probably lies somewhere in between and art provides an opportunity to work through a creativity process. This includes times of inspiration, and times where ideas are not terribly plentiful.
Art is also about dealing with frustration, and being able to overcome certain obstacles to create a piece or understand what is being developed. Sometimes the value of art is in trying to move an idea from one’s head to one’s hands, which is sometimes easier said than done. The goal is not be frustrated, but there is value in frustration sometimes because it teaches people to persevere and see things through.
Finally, art is valuable because it teaches something about history. When people examine art and study its origins, they find out all sorts of things about religion, politics, social customs, and cultural norms. Again, the picture is not just something to look at sometimes. Rather, it is an expression of the person and this can give insight into the artist as well as provide an opportunity for personal introspective. Not all of these outcomes are guaranteed with art, but there always exists the possibility that art will inspire the student to explore things that go beyond their own perspective on the world.