Creativity (Part 3) Why is Art Education Essential?

‘Art is like a mirror’, I’ve heard said. I agree. For the artist the work shows them who they are. Culturally, art shows us who we are. All art does this. Cinema, comic strips, paintings, sculpture…they’re all a product of their times. And this is because art is a form of expression, it’s about us, by us. So, why is this important in a school curriculum? Here are a few initial thoughts.

Art has a special place in education because of that quality. Art is about you and your thoughts. It requires a creative response from you. It’s about being a producer, not just a consumer. It’s about being visually literate and developing personal, creative, thought. Well, so what? We have a curriculum that is largely geared towards standardised approaches and even standardised thinking. There may be a time and place for that, but if so, it only makes the need even more significant to balance this with a need to explore your own creativity. It’s the difference between education and training. The best education is about broadening the mind, the poorest is just training a student how to pass that exam. But, everybody is pre-occupied with league tables and exam results. From this year some arts subjects can be discounted from league table results…so why, ask some schools, should we offer them? The NSEAD’s (National Society for Education in Art & Design) 2014 Survey Report confirms that significant numbers of teachers/schools have seen a reduction in art choices at GCSE, have lost time on timetables (while expected to maintain results), have fewer arts specialists teaching art or that only 32% surveyed believed art is valued by managers/school governors.

But again, we need to educate the whole person and achieve some balance. Creativity and exploring ideas should not be dirty words in education, they should be at it’s heart. A subject that champions personal ideas, develops personal expression and celebrates ‘what makes us who we are’ is essential isn’t it? If I’m wrong, we’re simply reducing education to farming our children for a grey office.

The government is usually quite patronising about the arts being a ‘soft’ subject. Why? To be an artist takes study, dedication, knowledge, expertise through experience, fierce perseverance, creativity, the rigour to assess your thinking and your processes and to modify and refine them, crtitcal thinking skills, visual literacy…it isn’t a bit of ‘presentation’ work or decorating around the margins of the ‘hard’ subjects.

Studying art at school isn’t about a career path to becoming an artist (any more than studying Maths is a career path to becoming a mathematician) and it’s not only about ‘making’ creatively but also thinking creatively. It’s both a practical subject and a cognitive one too. Which takes us to visual literacy. I’ve mentioned how art is a language. Well, as a language it has visual grammer…composition, space, texture, balance, pattern etc. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of people don’t consider the value of this grammer or how it even affects them. Take right now for example…take a look around you right now. I’d bet you could list at least a hundred examples of design around you right now…the clothes you’re wearing, the seat you’re on, the device you’re reading this on, magazines, book covers, tv shows, your phone, your glasses…which of these items do you think hasn’t been through a design process? And in what way is the design working on you? Like all the designs (for one simple example) in a supermarket talking to you, making one item look more expensive or more appetising than it’s neighbour or simply grabbing your attention through package design. Colour, images, graphics, composition, pattern etc, all communicating to you. We live in a very visually orientated world and we can either be blindly ignorant of it all, or we can have an educated dialogue.

Remember, it’s not what you look at, it’s what you see.

So, it’s a question of balance. We need the government and our schools to reverse the trend of the arts are being squeezed out of the timetable. We need to reverse the trend of perceiving art as less important or a ‘soft’ subject. It has an important role within the curriculum and it has profound cultural and personal significance…we need to educate the whole person and achieve some balance. Creativity and exploring ideas should not be dirty words in education, they should be at it’s heart. A subject that champions personal ideas, develops personal expression and celebrates ‘what makes us who we are’ is essential isn’t it? If I’m wrong, we’re simply reducing education to farming our children for a grey office.

Here’s a link to the NSEAD Art,Craft and Design Educator Survey Report 2014.

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Bob: Bob is a concept artist for the film, tv and game industries


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