It's Not Either Or. It's Both And.

By Laura Zakaras

I've had a side conversation with Nick Rabkin, author of Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century. He takes me to task for drawing too bright a line between instrumental and intrinsic benefits of the arts, and I think he's right. He mentions James Catterall's evaluation of the schools working with the Chicago Arts Partnerships that found that test scores were rising faster in those schools than they were in comparable schools without the program--results that got serious attention from the Chicago Board of Education. But the reason students do better is intimately connected to arts' intrinsic effects.

Here's what Nick writes:

. . . Over the last few years I have concluded that what James reported and what I have seen in those classrooms is not instrumental at all. We mistake it as instrumental because we define "art", as Eric says, by its nouns, the products that artists make. But if art is understood as multiple ways of engaging the world, making sense and meaning from it, and expressing that meaning through a medium, we would understand that the cognitive gains the test may (or may not) reflect and the language mastery that comes with the photography lessons are part of an integrated package. Intrinsic and instrumental are, like the subjects in the curriculum, ways of categorizing the world that can be helpful. But they can also blind us to the complexity of the world, and I'm afraid they do in this case.
We could easily say that the "intrinsic" benefits you ascribe to art your post - "pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced" - are instrumental. I want to experience some pleasure, so I watch a movie. That is instrumental.
I think the confusion grows fundamentally from the frame that defines art: it is broadly understood as affective, sensual, and expressive, and not cognitive. But the most current cognitive science seems to be showing that this is a continuation of what Antonio Dimasio, the noted neuroscientist has called "Descartes Error."
I say, let's take a page from the playbook of our new president-elect. Let's call a time out in this intrinsic-instrumental debate. It is not either or. It is both and.
December 4, 2008 12:08 PM | | Comments (3) |


I really like the "It's not either or, it's both and." I've it before and it got me over a rough spot.

I'm reminded of Kierkegaard's "Either or" and my own, "Think Galacticaly and multidimentionally " I may have misspelled, but you get the idea.

Being limited to deductive logic is putting our thinking in a box. And what if it's a wrong premise? Perhaps education can produce lifetime learners, not just fodder to fill corporate slots.

Kierkegaard and art education are a return to wholeness.

It is all--skills, cognition, and expression. The history of arts education in Colorado (in the 80s) showed a successful push from any and all directions--arts teachers, teaching artists, professional performance organizations (i.e.,symphony, theater), and administrators and boards in school districts. Most importantly now, the landscape of electronic creating and learning has shifted into a technologically alive and personally exciting sphere--all we have to do is use it--the kids are already there. The folks who can make this happen in our schools are the taxpayers--find the ways to convince them by sharing the life-altering effects of engagement in the arts and it will happen.

Bingo Laura (and Nick)!

It is what many of us involved in the practical policy debates have been saying. It is BOTH... Nick is right... the "instrumental benefits" occur because of the acquisition of skills and knowledge in the art form.

There is no reason to deny these additional benefits from arts education as long as we do not only rely on these as the reason for providing arts instruction.

The same can be said for in school/out-of-school opportunities and providers. We have found in our work that the place where there are opportunities for arts organizations to provide programs is... in schools where programs are to begin with! If a school understands the value of the arts enough to include as part of the core offerings they will be much more inclined to bring in partners than those who do not.

Case in point... in NJ... 89% of our schools bring programs into the schools from the non-profit arts community. 88% of our schools GO TO an arts venue for an arts programs. 94% of the schools have certified arts specialists in Music AND Art. Over 1000 non-profit arts organizations interact in our public schools. Lastly... 39% of our schools have multi-year agreements with non-profits to provide additional support to in school instruction. That means 899 schools are working with 315 non-profits in this way.

This is not to say NJ is a model (we have our issues as well) but the collaborative spirit that has evolved between are arts organizations and our school-based arts program brings to life this concept that has, until now, eluded the arts and education community.

It IS both and the combination adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

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