When I was a teenager, many well-meaning people told me not to prioritize the arts. My parents supported me, but many teachers and fellow students said that arts would be a waste of time and money. But, as I’ve grown older, I realized — those artistic classes are what made me care about school.
I can’t imagine school without creativity, but, for many kids, that is dangerously close to reality. In the flurry of standardized tests and STEM initiatives, the arts can fall behind.
But the arts don’t distract from “real learning.” Some countries with the world’s highest test scores in STEM subjects require that schools teach the arts! Assistant Professors Brian Kisida and Daniel H. Bowen researched the effects of arts classes on students for their essay, "New Evidence of the Benefits of Arts Education.” They reported that students in art classes, “ were more likely to agree that school work is enjoyable, makes them think about things in new ways, and that their school offers programs, classes, and activities that keep them interested in school.”
Kids love art classes! And rightly so — these classes engage different parts of the brain than math or science, and sometimes even teach motor skills. But even if the arts didn’t contribute to higher test scores and better brain health, wouldn’t it be enough that they make kids care? If the arts keeps kids in and invested in school, then schools have to treat the arts seriously.
But, much more importantly, art teaches kids how to empathize with each other. This may seem very trite, but studies have shown this is true. The arts teach us how to properly communicate. And the core of communication is, of course, empathy. I know that my writing has helped me understand people I disagree with. Even with the characters I dislike, I have to explore their motivations and imagine their worldview. Some authors say that every character they write is just another part of them. I think of it more as my characters are the parts of me I see in other people. They help me see through others’ eyes, however imperfectly. Also, if I can care about these fake people, I have to be kinder to the real people in my life.
To communicate, we need to share a language. In writing, you imagine a setting or characters and make them real to your reader. In photography and videography, you capture a moment or scene so viewers can feel like they are there. In fashion, you use styles and color theory to reflect who you are. Art teaches us to see the world through others’ eyes.
Art is universal because it is part of what makes us human. It’s not an optional part of our development. All cultures have songs, fashions, pottery, painting, and storytelling. But many children, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, won’t have the opportunity to explore the arts outside of school. This is why we have to support the arts in schools and those organizations that work with schools to teach children the joy of creativity. The kids deserve it.
Want help, or to help? Here is a list of trusted arts organizations.
Save the Music Foundation https://www.savethemusic.org/
More registered arts programs-- https://www.aep-arts.org/aep-partners/