Art has been in existence for since the beginning of human civilisation. The field, in most cases, is viewed as a way of action and knowing. Art has played a key role in the development of human identities. It has also been significant to the evolution of cultural practices in all human societies. Consequently, art is regarded as one of the defining elements of humanity. To some advocates of this field, art is believed to be the window to the soul of humanity. According to Nathan (2008), art is used to communicate and provide a framework for the understanding of passions, emotions, and the enduring conflicts that humans have always indulged in. The scholars who advocate for the centrality of arts in the development of humanity observe that even the cavemen recorded their history, experiences, and events through drawings of pageants that marked the passing of time and seasons (Anderson, 2014).
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In this paper, the author explores the importance of art its contribution in the development of cognitive and cultural attributes among children. To this end, the author will demonstrate that art provides human societies with lens through which they can view both historical and contemporary issues. Finally, the paper will be used to support the argument that teaching art processes can improve the ability of students to shape the learning process and the way it is conceived in schools.
The Importance of Teaching Arts Education
Arts in Traditional and Contemporary Societies
Arts are a common feature in both traditional and modern societies. In most traditional communities, trumpets and drums were used to herald the commencement of battle. In addition, birth and death in these societies were received with songs and dance. Consequently, theatre was viewed as an avenue through which solutions to dilemmas faced by mankind were provided. It can also be observed that in most communities, the portraits of heroes, kings, villains, and other important figures in the society were painted to record these particular moments in time (Learning area, n.d).
To recognise the centrality of arts to experiences among humans, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted several decades ago (The future of the Australian curriculum, 2014). The declaration observed that everybody has a right to participate in the cultural life of their community. In addition, each person should be able to enjoy and share arts in the scientific advancement of its benefits. In the western world, arts subjects have been neglected and pushed to the periphery of the academic field in favour of the sciences. The curriculums used in most schools focus on literacy, sciences, and numeracy. However, in the last few decades, the intrinsic values of arts have been recognised (Ross, 2014).
According to some advocates of this field, arts have the ability to release people’s imaginations to new perspectives. In addition, they can help people identify new solutions and alternative views to life. As a result, the vistas that could be opened, as well as the connections that could be made, are phenomenal. It is also noted that the encounter between the individual and the world around them would be newly informed with the help of arts. In addition, immersion in arts has been found to improve individuals’ sense of enjoyment and identity. The immersion can also offer positive changes in the direction taken by the life of the individual (Anderson, 2014). In most cases, it is argued that arts can transform learning in education contexts. They can also ensure improve the link between the learners and the curriculum.
A Working Definition of Arts
There are many ways through which arts can be defined. According to Bamford (2006), arts can be used to reflect the uniqueness of the cultural circumstances of a particular nation. Bamford (2006) further observes that art is characterised by fluidity and dynamism. In their attempts to arrive at a working definition of arts, Bamford (2006) recognises the impossibility of giving static definitions to this field. The reason is that the definitions become obsolete as soon as they are provided. As such, scholars should be conscious of the dynamism of contemporary art practices. In addition, the art terminology can be used to represent the important creative disciplines. The disciplines include dance, literature, drama, music, visual arts, film, as well as other forms of media arts. All these disciplines have a significant role in formal education contexts. They also play a significant role in the cohesion of the community.
The forms of art described above can be viewed as a representation of different languages. Their varying modes are used to communicate a wide range of skills, knowledge, and symbols. In light of this, it is imperative to study each form of art (Burton, 2010). Each form of art should be explored for its intrinsic values. The reason is that each of them has different ways of creating knowledge and improving communication (Sinclair & O’Toole, 2008). The various forms of art should be viewed and understood as different types of literary elements. However, it is important to note that all of them involve some kind of design, experimentation, play, provocation, and exploration. In addition, they entail expression, communication, representation, and visualisation. All these elements are used to shape other forms of media (Ross, 2014).
Developmental Benefits of Arts
Arts play a significant role in the development of a child’s motor skills. For instance, most of the motions involved in the creation of art, such as scribbling with a pencil or a crayon, are important in the development of fine motor skills (The future of the Australian curriculum, 2014). Participation helps learners to improve their skills in mathematics and reading. It also improves one’s cognitive and verbal competencies. According to Burton (2010), engaging in arts has a positive correlation with verbal capabilities. Learning these subjects is also associated with an increase in levels of motivation and enhanced confidence. It also improves concentration and teamwork among the learners (Why art matters, 2011).
Many scholars observe that the intrinsic pleasures derived from arts entail more than just the ‘sweetening’ of a person’s life (Burton, 2010). Such experiences help to deepen the connection between the individual and the world around them. They also provide them with new ways to view the world. The development lays the foundation for strong social bonds and improved cohesion in the community. A strong programming of arts within the curriculum also helps to close the intellectual gap that has made many children lag behind in intellectual achievement. It is noted that the children from affluent backgrounds are exposed to arts through visits to museums and attending Mozart concerts and other platforms. As a result, their interaction with the arts is assured regardless of whether or not the subjects are provided in their schools. However, teaching arts in schools provides children from poor economic backgrounds a level playing field (Nathan, 2008).
Arts Education and Academic Achievement
A new picture is emerging in the new educational era. School districts have started to focus on the field of arts. The emerging models are anchored on new brain research findings and cognitive development. The new models have embraced a variety of approaches that regard arts as a significant learning tool. For instance, musical notes are increasingly being used to teach fractions (Nathan, 2008). The models have also incorporated arts into the teaching of the core classes. For example, the teaching of slavery and other historical themes can be delivered by having the students act a play that dramatises those events.
In the US, Australia, and Europe, it is widely acknowledged that the students exposed to a learning process embedded in arts achieve improved grades and better test scores compared to those who are not exposed to this field. The students are less likely to play truants. In addition, they are rarely bored and have a healthy and positive self concept (Marshall, 2010). They are also most likely to participate in community service. Nascent studies have demonstrated that learning through arts can improve educational outcomes for other academic disciplines (Burton, 2010). For instance, the studies have observed that the students who partake in drama and music attain higher levels of success in reading and mathematics than those who do not take part in such ventures. Consequently, arts are seen as strategies to engage difficult students. The subjects connect learners to self, others, and the world. Engaging in arts also helps the teacher to transform the classroom environment. Most importantly, it challenges the students who may already be successful to work harder (Burton, 2010).
Experimental evidence demonstrates a strong link between non-arts and arts skills. For example, I carried out an experiment on 10 children who were involved in a family theatre program. The program demonstrated that an exposure in theatrical activities for a year improves the empathy and emotional regulation among the children. For the adolescents involved in a similar program, it was shown that arts helped them improve their empathy. It also improved their understanding and appreciation of the mental status of other participants. The linkage makes sense to the advocates of arts education (Marshall, 2010). Training in arts, acting, and theatre puts the participants in other people’s shoes. The experience helps them to imagine how other people feel. In addition, it enables them to understand their emotions and view the world differently. After undertaking the program, I concluded that students should be given the opportunity to study arts in school irrespective of whether or not the subjects have discernible positive effects.
Cognitive Benefits of Arts
The cognitive benefits that are derived from arts include the development of skills needed in learning, improvement of academic performance, as well as enhancement of reading and mathematical capabilities. In addition, arts improve creative thinking among the learners (Marshall, 2010). The experiment mentioned above also showed that participation in theatre helped students from low socioeconomic backgrounds improve their academic performance. Consequently, I can conclude that the effects of arts education are transformative. The effects hold true across the socioeconomic divide. The impacts are cumulative and increase as the students from poor background get more exposure to the study of arts. It can also be emphasised that the students who are exposed to arts had better scores, which are higher than those of learners who are less engaged. The scores are especially better in such educational areas as creative thinking and originality (Burton, 2010).
The Benefits of Arts with Regards to Behaviour and Attitude
The study of arts has a positive impact on the attitudes and behaviour of the students. The benefits of behavioural and attitude change include improved self-efficacy and self-discipline. The advantages are easily associated and directly linked to improved school attendance, as well as reduced rates of drop-outs (Burton, 2010). In addition, the benefits are associated with the development of social skills. Such social and life skills include better understanding and appreciation of the consequences of an individual behaviour. The students also portray an increased ability to participate in teamwork, acceptance of constructive critiquing from fellow students, and the willingness to adopt pro-social behaviours.
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Health Benefits of Arts Education
I must recognise that art has many health benefits. The therapeutic effects include improved physical and mental health. In Australia, the benefits are beginning to be recognised with several ongoing projects in schools reporting positive outcomes. It is argued that people who engage in relaxing activities, such as reading a novel, playing a musical instrument, painting, or singing, develop a healthy mind (Why art matters, 2011). It is also observed that people who enjoy attending a good concert, a dance, a movie, or an art exhibition exercise their body and mind through the enjoyment, social inclusion, and relaxation. The individuals also improve their confidence, resilience, and self-esteem (Marshall, 2010). An art-mental paradigm can deliver significant health benefits to the students at school and in their adult life.
Arts Education in Australian Curricula
There are three different approaches to the learning of arts in Australia. The first can be described as the appreciation of Australian arts heritage. In this approach, the field is conceptualised as a domain for the talented. The approach points to the belief that the talented artist will provide the Australian society with its cultural artefacts (Learning area, n.d). The second approach is the identification of the students who demonstrate artistic potential. The teachers focus on these learners and prepare them for future careers. The third approach is the desire to avail every student with an opportunity to engage with art and to appreciate it (Marshall, 2010). As such, the Australian curriculum anticipates that the students will actively learn, engage in artistic activities and processes, as well as appreciate the works of art done by others.
It must be remembered that the role of arts is to enhance learning by increasing enjoyment, fostering creativity, and enhancing imaginative activities. The objectives can only be achieved through participation in arts programs. It is also observed that students become more cognisant of the larger spectrum of world experiences by engaging in this field. The role of arts is to transform the students’ learning experiences by celebrating creativity. As such, teaching of arts should be encouraged and promoted at all levels of learning. Every student should be provided with the opportunity to participate in arts so as to improve their academic performance and develop into healthy adults with enhanced social skills.
Anderson, M. (2014). Why this elitist attack on arts education is wrong. Web.
Bamford, A. (2006). The wow factor: Global research compendium on the impact of the arts in education. Berlin, Germany: Waxmann Verlag.
Burton, B. (2010). Dramatising the hidden hurt: Acting against covert bullying by adolescent girls: Research in drama education. The Journal of Applied Theatre & Performance, 15(2), 255-278.
Learning area. (n.d). Web.
Marshall, J. (2010). Five ways to integrate: Using strategies from contemporary art. Art Education, 63(3), 13-19.
Nathan, L. (2008). Why the arts make sense in education. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(3), 177-181.
Ross, M. (2014). The aesthetic imperative: Relevance and responsibility in arts education. New York: Pergamon.
Sinclair, C., & O’Toole, J. (2008). Education in the arts: Teaching and learning in the contemporary curriculum: Principles and practices for teaching. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.
The future of the Australian curriculum: The arts: A response to the review of the Australian curriculum. (2014). Web.
Why art matters. (2011). Web.