The Value of Art in Secondary Schools

Recently, I was asked to talk at a high school fine arts banquet. The invitation came with a predetermined subject: I was to talk about the value of the arts, particularly in high school and in the community. That’s a tough assignment. It’s not something I think about every day.  And the addition of qualifiers made it that much more problematic.

My first thought was about how an early start could establish a good foundation for those who would become professional artists or arts educators. Many artists credit their high school teachers as the ones who first inspired them to follow the path that they did and develop into the professionals that they had become. But in this situation, there would be many in the audience who would not become professionals, who might not pursue their art past high school graduation. What of them?

This forced me to think about how participating in the arts in high school impacts the individual. The arts teach lessons that are worth learning whether one is going into art as a career or not. So I thought about what is taught by all arts: the joy of being able to express oneself, the feeling of accomplishment at having created something that wasn’t before, the ability to see and observe, the ability to manipulate media, the ability to impact others, the opportunity to tell one’s story or the story of one’s family or culture, the chance to share one’s thoughts and emotions without fear.

Then I thought about the qualities that participating in collaborative arts can help develop in individuals: teamwork and interdependence, give and take—the sharing of ideas and building on the work of others, learning when to lead and when to follow, and development of a sense of timing.

Arts can also give those students who don’t fit in anywhere else a place to belong. It is the one place that I have always felt comfortable. I think that others may have the same feelings. Everyone is looking for somewhere to fit in, and the absence of that somewhere is often a cause for considerable angst among high-school aged students. Finding their place, or their element as Ken Robinson calls it, can be one of the most important events in their lives. Suddenly there is a reason to go to school, a reason for doing something besides video games and Facebook, a reason to live.

But perhaps the most important thing that the arts teach is creativity itself.  Daniel H. Pink says in A Whole New Mind, “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind–creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. This is really what the arts can do for the individual student.”

And everybody benefits: students involved in the arts actually enjoy at least part of their day. They want to be where the art facilities are. A student who wants to be there is always less of a problem than one who wants to be anywhere else. On top of that, that school gets to showcase the art produced on its campus, whether that is a dance recital, a display of visual art, a play, or a concert.

Artists, young or old, find that they cannot function completely in isolation, so the joy that they experience in creating their art cannot help but spill out into the community. It may simply be the sharing of artwork with the community. Or it may be that as artists develop, they become more observant, more empathetic, more careful of their surroundings. Quite simply they care more. And that’s something the community will notice and appreciate.

But in my opinion the greatest benefit derived from young people participating in the arts is a better life. Art adds value to life, not only for those who make it, but also for those who get to see it. A world without the arts would be a sorry place indeed. Fine arts at the secondary level must continue.

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Date: Monday, 28. March 2011 0:10
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Education

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