This Conversation

By Douglas McLennan
For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to...

take up some of the slack. Foundations funded programs to take art into the schools. But producers of art aren't primarily in the education business. Schools increasingly focused on meeting basic skills benchmarks have less and less time to make room for study of the arts. And technology has spawned a vast, crowded, and alluring marketplace of creativity competing for attention. New research by RAND and sponsored by The Wallace Foundation suggests that a generation of Americans has not developed the knowledge or skills to engage with our cultural heritage. Without that engagement, the arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run. Can anything be done?

January 27, 2008 4:39 PM | | Comments (7) |



I suppose the issue is that the arts is not a test score. It's not a number. From my observational experiences, administrators like to treat students like numbers. If they treated them like members of society, they would be interested in having them become something, become successful human beings and not as a number to show other admins.

The arts in schools are necessary to creating human beings. It's not about improv games, or abstract paintings, or things that are seen as frivolous. We need to be able to express and communicate, to get out what is in us so that we can be successful in whatever field we chose to work in.

I agree that along with creative thinking skills, visual literacy needs to be taught. Following up with Graham Brown’s reference to the Harvard Medical School study, I want to include this article on another study from the medical field that cites the relationship between video games and laparoscopic skills. The point being that we need to reexamine how we deliver education today…not just Art education.

Technology(internet, digital media, video games) is indeed alluring and highly engaging to today’s youth and embedded in current culture. Rather than looking at it as the “competition,” what can we learn from its success? Shouldn’t technology be embraced as new tools in the creative process?

less focus has been placed on the importance of the diversity of the arts and how it can transcend a students thinking into a conversation worth telling of not only foundations and elements of art but the history of our very existence. In other word, I have been appalled at the professioanlism =of artt eachers, specifically High School art teachers who's job it is to make sure studetns reach the highest level of study. The funding for the arts has been pushed over into other fields, giving less rise to the arts. What can be done to sustain a conversation between the arts and our cultural? Qualified teachers, colleges must maintain the requirements into any art related field. These reqirements must meet the traditonal importance first, then the new found technology. Remember if we lost a way to communicate through internet, phone, tv..what is left? the art of writing (in all forms)

Several things can be done and must be done.
1. Parents must value arts in the home and in family activities. Turn off the television and allow children the pleasure of their imaginations again! Supply them with markers, crayons, simple tools of expression to begin to learn to entertain themselves...

2. PTA organizations must raise consciousness among its members of the importance of arts education and raise funds to deliver basic supplies and programs to schools with shortfalls.

3. Teachers and administrators have to show leadership in this area and push the arts to the forefront with academics; primarily, looking for and using tools and resources that promote arts integration into other subjects.

4. Cultural organizations have to learn effective partnering strategies so that they can meet constituents where they are. Delivering arts to students, teachers and schools must become a mission of arts organizations, not just delivering arts to those who can afford it.

…Will our culture suffer if we don’t do more to teach the arts? As a Canadian I would like to address this issue as it is appropriate for anyone to be concerned with the roll of the art education and culture. To understand the dilemma that faces contemporary American art education and its cultural society, we need to revisit what we mean by the arts and ask the questions of what the value of the arts is for the individual and for society.

As individuals and society we need to look at what the existing devolution of the arts means to American society. Is American industry as creative or innovative as it was in the past? To do this we need to define what we mean when we refer to the arts, and thereby by extension culture.

When we talk about the arts what are we saying —what are we teaching? Too often in the K-12 message we see that art is taught with the expectation of artistic practice. This is dangerous for students but equally very detrimental for parents who do not see the value in artistic practices. The parents therefor do not support the arts in the schools because they do not see the educational rigor they expect in their child’s education. Even well minded educators see the arts an unimportant activity for their K-12 charges —a make busy. They fail to see what the art’s can achieve in the child’s cognitive development. When schools teach the arts for the aesthetics they fail to reach the fullness of what the arts can do for the individual and the whole society at large. Even the very word ART is so loaded with presumed value that to understand what we mean by art we must change our language.

Implicit in the opening paragraph there is the understanding that at best the art education prepare the students to become consumers of culture. The Arts gets a bad name because we make it appear to be elitist beyond the average person ability to do or comprehend. We have a division between Crafts and the ARTS.

What I suggest is to forget about the training of the future consumers of cultural. Forget building audiences it will happen. By teaching art to American youth we will have participants that will contribute to the American culture. To see the arts in a new way I propose we apply Ellen Dissanayake’s “Make Special”meaning to art.

When we see the making special in the drawing of a four year old we can see the cognitive thinking of that child. With guided instruction we can help that child bring forward their ideas and language development. We see the development of observation, memory, and problem solving ability and skills for that child. Above all we see the child using their tacit knowledge, information they did not realize they had, information they have to contribute to a discussion. The arts, making special, opens the opportunities to further the learning for the child. Using art as the starting point for discussion or writing, therefore, allows the children to use strength virtually all of them possess. Experience with art helps students picture, visualize what they read, aiding to comprehension.

As adults in this process we can encourage or discourage this type of learning by supplying or not supplying what the child needs to learn. A learning environment is required. Each child has a learning style that can be reached through the use of the arts and use as access to the other school subjects. This does not just relate to the visual arts but can be applied to dance and music as well. But to achieve this we must acknowledge fully that the Arts as we know them is a cognitive activity and worthy of respect and encouraging the schools not for creating consumers but to achieve individuals who can think and partake in the cultural mix of an American Society.

The cliché that the world is becoming more visual and less literate has never been more true than now. A new literacy is need. More and more we are receiving information from a screen, whether it be a drama or data, we are needing to be visually literate. A recent “New York Time Magazine”, Nov. 23, 2008 edition dedicated a majority of space just discussing the idea of “How We Watch Stuff”. A research publication (week of Aug. 11, 2008) from the Harvard Medical School showed that doctors-in-training who took art classes at medical school appear to have better skills of observation than their colleagues. Imagine if they had taken some art courses in their youth. The research shows that studying art can help students make up to 38 percent more accurate observations in their diagnosis. Isn’t this observational skill also needed tobe developed in children so they can create an understanding of their world.

We are seeing the use of data visualization to make complex data take on a more comprehensible form. Our society is now requiring more additional visualization skills. This requirement will require more pro-active arts education tobe offered to our children. Unintended outcomes, new information, and new connections can occur when we respect the value of the arts in the educational process of our children. The arts trigger observation and ideas encouraging talking about what they see and apply what they think and know.

Yes! American culture will suffer if the arts are not taught in schools. But here my reference to culture is not restricted to what is done in galleries, theaters, or on dance stages of America. The American culture is more than these limited communities, what I am referring to is the culture of business, industry, the science those elements that made America a magnate for creative, innovative and a world leader in the past. America will be less of a country because of the minimizing of the arts education in its public schools K-12 curriculum. No country can afford to outsource its creativity and innovation and expect to survive in a globalized economy.

Graham A. Brown

Executive Producer

The Lost Language of Children

Vancouver, BC

I teach high school art in Montana and am fortunate enough to be full time, I taught in a smaller town for 3 years and they cut the fantastic art program in half, from 7 periods a day to 3, they had Jr high art, art 1,2,3,4 photography and pottery. Needless to say I did not stay on to teach part time. I have visited neighboring small towns whom do not have an art program and am always amazed of the lack of visual problem solving skills that kids have, they are not asked to be creative visually in other classes, they are not asked to think about what a photo is trying to say, they don't look at the mixed array of architecture that surrounds them, they just see buildings. Without art education we are limiting students to never reach outside the box, not very many places for them to reach out with creativity or explore it.... Art is an area you can use the rest of your life, not just a test that will be forgotten tomorrow.
You hear employers say they want well rounded employees, without the arts we are just leaving a corner on. In the arts kids discover things about themselves and are able to project that, why take it away? Just because no one has made up a standardized test on Abstract art?

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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Recent Comments

Lindsay Price commented on This Conversation: I suppose the issue is that the arts is not a test score. It's not a number...

Jack Lew commented on This Conversation: I agree that along with creative thinking skills, visual literacy needs to ...

Jack Lew commented on This Conversation: Technology(internet, digital media, video games) is indeed alluring and hig...

elisa commented on This Conversation: less focus has been placed on the importance of the diversity of the arts a...

Faith Davis commented on This Conversation: Several things can be done and must be done. 1. Parents must value arts in ...

Graham Brown commented on This Conversation: …Will our culture suffer if we don’t do more to teach the arts? As a Canadi...

Kate Ruland commented on This Conversation: I teach high school art in Montana and am fortunate enough to be full time,...