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  • Why Your Children Need Art

    This Is Your Brain On Art
    By Brianna Smith
    Education Coordinator
    Davidson Community Players’ the Connie Company

    In the summers while attending college I worked for a bookstore in Austin, TX whose owner valued his knowledgeable and artistic employees and built the store’s reputation on engaged and thoughtful sales people. I worked alongside other artistic souls creating innovative new camps, presentations and programming for our customers. Despite working in a retail setting, the creativity of the store’s employees was an essential piece of what made the store successful. Many business leaders might look at the unkempt staff and the increasing competition from online sales and wonder how we could survive in a wealthy, tech-centric environment like Austin. However, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and the failure of mega stores like Borders, this particular store has enjoyed the three highest grossing years since their creation. The owner purposefully seeks creative minds who will push and build the company and who can relate well to others. He understands, as we move into a changing economy, what he needs most from his staff is the ability to think creatively and independently.

    Your children are growing up in a culture that is slowly recognizing that the greatest thing they have to offer their employers is a mind enriched by art. A mind adept at recognizing, analyzing and creating art is also capable of creative problem solving, collaboration, effective communication and abstract reasoning.

    In recent years, experts have begun to recognize a trend among American cities and businesses. They have noticed a growing trend in strong regional economies in areas inhabited largely by artistic minds and have taken note that growth in the American economy is emerging from the creative class. Richard Florida, in his 2004 Rise of the Creative Class, argues that the new workforce is driven by the workers who are actively engaged with finding new solutions, new ideas and living a life that is enriched by art. He points to statistics that link strong arts communities with thriving economic environments. More importantly, he argues that creativity is an essential skill not only in the arts, but in every field of employment, from concert pianists to engineers to secretaries to lawyers. He states:

    In fields such as medicine and scientific research, technicians are taking on increased responsibility to interpret their work and make decisions, blurring the old distinction between white-collar work (done by decisionmakers) and blue-collar work (done by those who follow orders). They acquire their own arcane bodies of knowledge and develop their own unique ways of doing the job.

    The North Carolina Public schools recently changed their standard course of study to reflect this growing cultural trend. The Essential Standards Preamble cites “Numerous studies [which] point toward a consistent and positive correlation between a comprehensive education in the arts and student achievement in other subjects...A comprehensive, articulated arts education program engages and helps students develop the self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperative skills, and self-motivation necessary for success in life.” Teachers are being trained to rethink the way they view the arts. The arts are not a tool to teach writing or math or history, they are a vehicle through which all students can learn the skills necessary to be successful in all academia and in life.

    As children, everyone engages in theatre play. One of the clearest and most productive ways for a child to cognitively and physically process culture is through theatre. They play doctor or father or teacher. They put on costumes, they use our words and they go through the motions of being adult in an effort to work through the social and cultural norms and expectations they experience as they are learning to live in community. As children we understand that the act of processing information with the whole self, mind, body and voice, is an essential piece of being human. We are artists who live and breathe art in our crayon drawings, dress up, finger paintings, and beating on pots and pans.

    Unfortunately, as adolescents and adults, we forget about the importance of playtime. As a former public high school teacher and teaching artist, I am met on a regular basis by students who are not engaged with the arts in a meaningful way. They fail to see the merit in understanding or challenging themselves to create art. Many of them make it through a large portion of their lives without any real experience with art at all and claim not to enjoy art in spite of their inexperience with formal arts education. A large number of male students in particular have bought into the antiquated cultural expectation that says artistic creation is an inappropriate endeavor for them to engage in as men. What is disappointing about many of these students is the level of raw talent they often have for creating art. In the theatre I have found this to be true in every kind of student. Athletes tend to have a strong physical presence and agility onstage which can draw the audience into the connections they learn to make mentally and emotionally. Honors students often effectively recognize patterns and themes in a script that may help them discover intricacies in a character. Students who work well with their hands find creative ways to construct set pieces or place lighting instruments. Natural leaders learn how to balance authority with collaboration to forge an effective infrastructure. When given the chance, these students can thrive in the arts and their school work may improve as their artistry expands, even if they do not continue on to have careers in the arts.

    Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy lists creation as the most advanced cognitive process in learning and meta-cognitive (self/strategic) knowledge as the most advanced level of knowledge a student can achieve in a lesson. In the arts, students are encouraged to know themselves better and to bring both their self-knowledge and creative problem solving skills into the process of producing creative works. By this standard, a comprehensive education in the arts is the clearest and easiest way to ensure that your child is building a solid foundation of life skills and cognitive processes that will serve them in all endeavors throughout their lives.

    Arts education is not a hobby, nor is it a privilege. It is an essential tool in building the larger structure of your child’s education as a future employee and well-rounded human being with an understanding of global cultures. As artist Roy Lichtenstein once said, “Art doesn’t transform. It just plain forms.”

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