It is without a doubt that the tangible benefits of studying science and math are irrefutable. The training in these subjects provides students with a future of high employability and skills that will not only benefit the individual but society as well. However, in the pursuit of our need to compete and improve in these areas, the often overlooked and intangible benefits of art are just as undeniable and should not be ignored.
In a 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman, Dana Gioia, stated, “Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.” Various neuroscience studies indicate that a child’s participation in the arts can have a profound effect on the brain's cognitive, social and emotional development and introduces children to different cultures, creating fully functioning and well-rounded individuals.
“Some of the big benefits of art are that it fosters creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills,” stated Windham Primary School art teacher, Jennifer Vasiliauskas. “These skills are essential and can be applied to all subjects now in school and later on in jobs across the market place. Art has always been an important form of expression. The visual arts can be seen as a language. Emotions, opinions and new ideas can be and are voiced through artwork.”
On my recent visit to Windham Primary School, the third grade students in Vasiliauskas’ class and the first and third grade students in art teacher Kirsten Hackett’s class, were busy creating various works of art. The projects contained a certain level of detail, creating a spark, a purpose and the ability to follow through, that contributes to a child’s confidence.
“I like making stuff,” first grade student, Tayla Doucette said about art. “It’s always a surprise about art because sometimes you think you can’t do it and then you discover you can.”
As Vasiliauskas suggests, art should not stop in the classroom. “Parents can help encourage and spark creative endeavors at home,” she began. “Parents can encourage the arts by having a small container of art supplies handy and accessible for children. Even a simple set of markers or crayons, scissors, a pencil and paper can provide enough material for children to start practicing and exploring their creativity.”
Vasiliauskas also recommends other ways to incorporate art in a child’s everyday life; ideas such as a family art night. “You can have a crazy sculpture competition using simple materials like paper towel rolls and pipe cleaners, take out a book on origami and try it out together or get out some pencils and crayons and have each member draw themselves as a superhero…the possibilities are endless! I think the important thing to remember is that the more you practice, the better you get."
One must not forget the art museums. “Exploring an art museum, is a great way to see a variety of original works, Vasiliauskas stated. “Seeing an original piece of art in person can be very different than just seeing a picture of it. You may even discover something that inspires you! The Portland Museum of Art is not far away. Since it is indoors, it’s a trip you can do even on cold or rainy days.”
Many successful business entrepreneurs have stated that art played a role in their life. Steve Jobs credits a calligraphy writing class to his success. “It was beautiful. Historical. Artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture,” he has been quoted as saying.
Ten years after taking that one simple art course, the Macintosh computer was designed. “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts,” Jobs has stated.
Paul G. Allen, the Co-Founder of Microsoft once said, “In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities…the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
On an evening or a weekend when the busyness of life has subsided and you find your family has a moment of time together without distraction, create a little art. In fact, schedule it in by taking time away from the television and computer. Who knows? That moment of fun and artistic adventure together as a family may just change the world.