I recently came across an article “Art for Our Sake” by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland. It starts out by asking the reader “Why do we teach the arts in schools?” Good question. Why should districts reconsider cutting funding from the visual arts, drama, music, and dance programs in order to build more time for core academic classes like math, science, social studies and English?
The evidence-based study asks arts advocates to campaign for what the arts bring to education in the set of thinking skills. Beyond the skill of developing an artistic craft, art classes also instill the habits of persistence, expression, making real-world connections, observing, envisioning, innovating through expression, and reflective self-evaluation. These are valuable skills artistic creators need to be successful but also skills needed to prepare inventive learners.
One of these skills, the skill of observation, resonated with me. The authors use the example of how visual arts students are trained to look and see the world accurately instead of narrowly with preconceptions. The example they use is when people are asked to draw a whole person, the face is often drawn much smaller than the hands. When I got to this point in the article I covered my face with my hand to test if the hand is actually the same size as the face. To my surprise I had an inaccurate perception of the human body. The hand is indeed proportionate in size to the face. So why is this revelation important?
The skill of observing is a real life skill essential to an array of professions and a skill that is taught directly through visual arts training. Think about it. There are many professions, outside the sphere of visual arts professions that ask for trained eyes to think about shapes, colors, lines, textures and patterns and it’s our students that will hold these posts.
I began to nod my head in agreement when I came to the challenge addressed to teachers of academic subjects: make classrooms more like arts studios. Provide opportunities for students to see, imagine, invent and think about the world with an aesthetic lens and use “studio habits of mind” to apply art-based approaches of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking to the world around them.