10 Lessons the Arts Teach

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A creative arts school

Recently, I toured my daughter’s annual school art show, a culmination of the students’ work in the visual arts. My kindergartener attends a creative arts public school in San Francisco. In addition to the standard district curriculum, all students at the school receive weekly art and music classes, as well as either drama or dance instruction.

I am not an artist but as an educator and parent, I was thrilled with the imagination, diligence, and joy evident in the show. The art teacher, Meg Sandine, is an accomplished artist and teacher who has taught at the school for ten years. She not only works closely with the teachers to integrate the district curriculum into her art classes but also assists the teachers in finding creative ways to teach the standard curriculum.

Teaching the visual arts

The National Visual Arts Standards published by National Art Education Association in 1994, a visual arts education benefits the student because it cultivates the whole child, gradually building many kinds of literacy while developing intuition, reasoning, imagination, and dexterity into unique forms of expression and communication.

The National Art Education Association also cites “10 Lessons the Arts Teach”:

  1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.
  2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
  3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.
  4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
  5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
  6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
  7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.
  8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
  9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.
  10. The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

[SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press.]

How does your school or district teach the visual arts? What benefits do you notice for the students?