Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


Why Keep Art Curriculums in School?

As the kids head back to school this week, I found it timely that the Boston Globe featured an interesting article in the Sunday Ideas section titled “Art for Our Sake.”  The authors studied five visual-art classrooms over the period of one academic year.  The classroom teachers are practicing artists themselves.  What the authors found is that art programs teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed in curriculums and that art programs should become more important in this age of standardized testing which tends to influence what schools teach.  Here are some of the points made in the article:

  • As schools increasingly shape their curriculum to produce high test scores, many life skills not measured by tests just don’t get taught.
  • Students in art classes learn not only techniques specific to art, they are also taught an array of mental habits not emphasized elsewhere in school.
  • These skills include visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism,  and willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes.
  • Several “studio habits of mind” were identified through videotaped classes, observation of teacher-student interaction, student interviews and analysis of samples of student work.
  • Habit 1: Persistence.  Students worked on projects over a sustained period of time, were expected to find meaningful problems and to persevere through frustration.
  • Habit 2: Expression.  Students were urged to move beyond technical skill to create works rich in emotion, atmosphere, and their own individual voice or vision.
  • Habit 3: Connections; clearly connect schoolwork to the outside world.  Students were taught to see their projects as part of the larger art world, past and present.  Students were taught to see parallels between their art and professional work.
  • Habit 4: Observing.  Students were trained to look beyond stereotypes and to see accurately and directly; to see what they might not have seen before.
  • Habit 5: Envisioning.  Students were taught to form mental images internally and then to use them to guide actions and solve problems.
  • Habit 6: Innovation.  Students were encouraged to innovate through exploration; to experiment, take risks, and to just “muck around” and see what can be learned.
  • Habit 7: Reflection.  Students were encouraged to engage in reflective self-evaluation; to step back, judge, analyze and sometimes reconceive their entire project through class critiques.

Throughout the article, the authors offered real life examples of where these skills are needed in a variety of professions.  They also suggest that teachers of academic subjects might benefit from making their classes more like arts classes.

Finally, the authors stress that “we don’t need arts in our schools to raise mathematical and verbal skills-we already target these in math and language arts.  We need the arts because in addition to introducing students to aesthetic appreciation, they teach other modes of thinking we value.  Those who have learned the lessons of art, however – how to see new patterns, how to learn from mistakes, and how to envision solutions – are the ones likely to come up with the novel answers needed most for the future.”

What do you think? 

How many of the “studio habits of the mind” do you apply to your own work?