Convincing people of the importance of an education in the arts can be a tough sell. In 2012, math and science are heralded above all else and the general public still tends to overlook the arts. When a school faces budget cuts – music, visual art and drama are typically the first to go.
The reality is that we are doing our children a great disservice by not immersing them in the arts. More and more studies are proving how children exposed to an arts curriculum demonstrate increased skills in critical thinking when compared to their peers.
Think about it. Why wouldn’t an arts education with its focus on creativity, produce young people capable of thinking outside the box? Artists are constantly pushed to explore uncharted territory. The truly great ones are those that produce new and exciting work that has never before been created.
A study conducted by the Guggenheim Museum showed that the child with the arts background has a considerable advantage over her peers. Entitled, The Art of Problem Solving(1), this four-year research initiative was conducted between 2006 and 2010 and evaluated the impact of the educational program, Learning Through Art.
The study showed that children from the Learning Through Art program demonstrated stronger problem solving skills in three out of six areas including “flexibility, resource recognition, and connection of ends and aims”. They found that problem solving was incorporated into the students’ daily art lessons. Students were encouraged to make conscious choices and find multiple answers to any given problem through the creative process.
Artistic creations themselves are born through the solving of problems. Generally, the “problem” is how to communicate a certain emotion or idea through a piece of art or performance. To create something original you must first identify the problem, break it down, and then develop different ways to approach and learn from it. For example:
When an artist holds a lump of clay, she must work within the constraints of the material to figure out how to mold it into a particular form.
When two dancers are working together, they must problem-solve to figure out how to make a particular partnering section work in the choreography.
When a writer comes up with a story, he must use critical thinking to evolve the story and make it clear and exciting for his readers.
When an actress has a monologue to perform, she must consider how she will express a certain emotion through her voice or mannerisms.
Each artistic endeavor faces some form of challenge in its creation that needs to be overcome. Without even realizing it, kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. That same inventive drive is exactly the skill needed to succeed in the realm of technology and innovation.
So, how can conventional education with its focus on math and standardized tests provide its students with the same skill development? The answer is, it can’t. Now I’m not saying that schools don’t provide opportunities for children to explore their creativity. The problem is that for the majority of the time, students in this environment are encouraged to come up with one answer, the right one. Young people are not being given enough practice to develop problem-solving skills, because they are so focused on 2 + 2 = 4. As a result, young adults are entering the workforce with under-developed problem-solving skills.
Experience in the arts is therefore not merely desirable, but essential for our children’s future success. The arts are building blocks for developing critical thinking in young people so that problems are exciting challenges to be solved, instead of insurmountable road blocks. Clearly, the benefits of the arts extend beyond than just those dedicated to pursuing a career as a musician, dancer, actor or artist. Einstein himself said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”