By Christopher Burgess
Part 1, Unlocking the Power of Arts Education: Benefits for a Lifetime
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
Artists are made, not born, but they are most often made young. Sometimes they’re made when they’re a little older – and truthfully, even an adult can become an artist – but it’s best to start young, as early as possible. From the ancient lectures of Plato and Aristotle to the modern sentiments of Picasso and Rothko, the advantages and benefits of an arts education have been viewed as a foundation for living “the good life” and as a path to participating in one of life’s most fundamental drives: the need to create.
Adults who grew up surrounded by the arts as kids see the benefits of an arts education as self-evident. However, for those who did not (or who for their own reasons set aside their creative pursuits somewhere along life’s winding path) it’s important to know for sure that these benefits and advantages are real, not just a lot of hype meant to stir up enthusiasm for time-consuming and expensive hobbies.
As an idea that has been around for a very, very long time, it’s a beautiful thought that the arts are the rich, fertile soil out of which a human being grows in mind, body and spirit, but there is now also an accumulating mass of scientific evidence that this old-fashioned notion is not just another ancient metaphor dreamt up by poetry teachers of the past looking for their next meal ticket.
Advantages to children
Recent investigations conclude that students who participate in art education programs do better on writing tests, exhibit better behavior, are more engaged in school and show more empathy for their peers. “Art engages children’s senses in open-ended play and supports the development of cognitive, social-emotional and multisensory skills,” says the Better Kid Care program at Penn State Extension. “As children progress into elementary school and beyond, art continues to provide opportunities for brain development, mastery, self-esteem and creativity.”
Benefits to teenagers
Research sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that engagement in the arts is linked to stronger school attachments and social bonds in adolescents, higher academic performance, greater optimism about future educational opportunities, fewer delinquencies, suspensions and expulsions, less depression, less substance abuse, and less screen time. Beyond that, the findings suggest that these effects brought about by an arts education last into adulthood and continue to produce benefits beyond adolescence.
Lasting effects for adults
The NEA findings also show that “former arts students were 55.38% more likely to have attended any postsecondary school by adulthood than were former non-arts students.” So says the data compiled in “Arts Education and Positive Youth Development” from the Research: Art Works program. “Each additional year of arts study was associated with an 18% increase in the likelihood of having attended any postsecondary schooling.”
As the authors of “The Arts in Early Childhood” explain, a growing body of evidence suggests that at virtually every stage of life, the arts can foster openness to novelty, encourage connections to people, places, things, and concepts, and promote the ability to take multiple perspectives, among other positive outcomes.”
Start early and keep going
By way of a conclusion, let’s glance back where we started, at the words of Pablo Picasso, and recognize that perhaps the real challenge of remaining an artist into adulthood is often a matter of starting early and then keeping going.
Next, we’ll take a closer look at the ways art education can improve social and emotional skills and cognitive abilities in students of all ages and prepare them to tap into an essential part of the human experience.