Education in the arts is an integral part of the development of each human being. Those who have studied learning processes throughout the ages, beginning with Plato, have emphasised the importance of the arts in the education process. Arts education refers to education in the disciplines of music, dance, theatre, and visual arts. Study in the arts is integral to our society. The arts are what make us most human, most complete as people.
Sufficient data exists to overwhelmingly support the belief that study and participation in the fine arts is a key component in improving learning throughout all academic areas. Evidence of its effectiveness in reducing student dropout, raising student attendance, developing better team players, fostering a love for learning, improving greater student dignity, enhancing student creativity, and producing a more prepared citizen for the workplace for tomorrow can be found documented in studies held in many varied settings, from school campuses, to the corporate world.
Evidence from brain research is only one of many reasons education and engagement in fine arts is beneficial to the educational process. The arts develop neural systems that produce a broad spectrum of benefits ranging from fine motor skills to creativity and improved emotional balance. One must realise that these systems often take months and even years to fine-tune. In a study conducted by Judith Burton, Columbia University, research evidenced that subjects such as mathematics, science, and language require complex cognitive and creative capacities “typical of arts learning”.
“The arts enhance the process of learning. The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attention, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning”.
The fine arts also provide learners with non-academic benefits such as promoting self-esteem, motivation, aesthetic awareness, cultural exposure, creativity, improved emotional expression, as well as social harmony and appreciation of diversity.
The following are findings reported in The Impact of the Arts on Learning (Fiske, 1999) that should be noted by every parent, teacher, and administrator:
- The arts reach students not normally reached, in ways and methods not normally used. (This leads to better student attendance and lower dropout rates.)
- It changes the learning environment to one of discovery. (This often re-ignites the love of learning in students tired of just being fed facts.)
- Students connect with each other better. (This often results in fewer fights, greater understanding of diversity, and greater peer support.)
- The arts provide challenges to students of all levels. (Each student can find his/her own level from basic to gifted.)
- Students learn to become sustained, self-directed learners. (The student does not just become an outlet for stored facts from direct instruction, but seeks to extend instruction to higher levels of proficiency.)
- The study of the fine arts positively impacts the learning of students of lower socioeconomic status as much or more than those of a higher socioeconomic status. (Twenty-one percent of students of low socioeconomic status who had studied music scored higher in math versus just eleven percent of those who had not. By the senior year, these figures grew to 33 percent and 16 percent, respectively, suggesting a cumulative value to music education.)
Today’s world is witness to the Information Age. The primary sources of content information are no longer teacher lectures or textbooks. Learning is not limited to what you know, but is dependent upon how to find information and how to use that information quickly, creatively, and cooperatively. “We are in the twilight of a society based on data. As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place a new value on the one human ability that can’t be automated: emotion (Jensen, 1999).”
Today’s students are inundated with data but are starving for meaningful learning. Workplace demands are for students to understand how to solve problems, what makes arguments plausible, how to build teams and coalitions, and how to incorporate the concept of fairness into the everyday decisions. Students need to be thinkers, possess people skills, be problem-solvers, demonstrate creativity, and work as a member of a team. We need to offer more in-depth learning about the things that matter the most: order, integrity, thinking skills, a sense of wonder, truth, flexibility, fairness, dignity, contribution, justice, creativity and cooperation. The arts provide all of these.
Perhaps the most fundamental element to education one should consider is the manner in which we perceive and make sense of the world in which we live. An effective education in the fine arts helps students to see what they look at, hear what they listen to, and feel what they touch. Engagement in the fine arts helps students to stretch their minds beyond the boundaries of the printed text or the rules of what is provable.
The arts free the mind from rigid certainty. Imagine the benefits of seeking, finding, and developing multiple solutions to the myriad of problems facing our society today! These processes, taught through the study of the arts, help to develop the tolerance for coping with the ambiguities and uncertainties present in the everyday affairs of human existence. There is a universal need for words, music, dance, and visual art to give expression to the innate urging of the human spirit.
The premier organisations in the corporate world today recognise that the human intellect “draws from many wells.”
Arts education gives access to the deepest of those wells.