Observations on the Importance of Art in Education, 6
Pt 1-Art is intrinsic to how our brains function
One idea that I’ve stressed often and hopefully well is that we all can both appreciate and create art. The visual arts are only one of the arts—there’s also music, dance and theater. Athletics or sports are also often included with recent neuroscience (brain) investigations into the relationship between creativity and how our brain grows, learns and thrives. The arts represent an important aspect of this research with results that have implications for educators and psychologists and once they’re better understood and documented, society in general. This research suggests that the implications extend beyond our early growth and development, that creativity and the arts are important throughout our lives. Why else would Walter Reed develop creative art support therapy for military patients with traumatic brain injury, psychological health issues and other diseases?
The importance of the arts in brain development and creativity should not be surprising news since every human culture-- literate or preliterate -- has art forms--a testimony to how the mental and physical activities required for the arts are intrinsic to brain function. The fact that the arts have evolved and continue to thrive within human culture indicates that they played an important role in our survival. Early or preliterate cultures relied on the arts-music, visual, dance-to help pass on the history and survival skills needed for the generations to retain what and how to hunt, later warrior skills and farming. Women were often the midwives and herbalists and had their own chosen art forms to pass on their lore.
Modern society has pasteurized and homogenized the arts, much as we’ve removed ourselves from the sources of our food. We want our fish filleted, our chicken boned and skinned and fruits and veggies available year-round, in or out of season. In parallel, people no longer sing or play instruments informally in groups as they compare themselves to modern music, half of which is synthesized to perfection that lacks memorable melody or lyrics. The millennial generation and those who follow barely know how to write (as in use cursive), having grown up with keyboards, so without serious exposure to the visual arts and drawing they won’t have learned the fine motor skills that cursive or written language demand and without exposure to music, whether singing or instrumental, they won’t fully develop the areas of the brain that music enhances including memory and numerical and other mathematical skills--more specifics in a later column.
Think back to your own childhood or how you raised or are raising your own children. Hopefully you spend some time every day reading and playing with them. When they’re young, it’s rhyming games and board games, books and simple puzzles. Peek-a-boo and itsy-bitsy spider and so many other silly songs to share and enjoy. They are best done with your child not solely in front of a screen. More and more studies suggest that learning is stronger and better retained when it is experiential, not passive. That is also why the arts are so important. They require a kinesthetic or an active physical component. Experienced classroom teachers make sure to have breaks for stretching or physical games or find physical ways to reinforce their lessons.
Since modern digital society spends more time on the keyboard and all the other variations—tablets, smart phones, etc.,-- for game playing, Facebooking, streaming, etc., etc., it also spends less time on hands-on experiences. The implication is that if direct experience with the arts is crucial to healthy brain development than it behooves modern society to make sure that our children are exposed to the arts from birth through early childcare and throughout their schooling. That means that the advocates of back-to-basics school budgets or the overzealous imposition of test-based curriculum, which leaves little time for arts-based learning, should be confronted with the importance of the arts to healthy brain development and creativity. And creativity is essential for a successful life and for the health and well-being of our economy and our society.
Highly evolved and specialized professional arts-theater, ballet, museums, high-end art galleries and symphonies-may be indicators of a wealthy and well-educated society or culture but if those very arts are limited to those able to attend, we restrict the creative experience to only those who are do them professionally and with exceptional skill. Yet, once again remember that the emotions and creative impulses that the arts engender harken back to our early survival skills. In extremus, survival depends on the ability to combine logical and unconscious perceptions to find creative solutions rapidly. Modern society may not regularly be faced with survival issues, but we still need creative solutions to the challenges we face. Almost every creative scientist, teacher, engineer or leader has an artistic side which feeds them—stretching their brain literally and physically to find optimum solutions in their profession. The best outcomes are when experts find different solutions, combine ideas in creative fashion based on life experience, and then the best parts can be merged for optimum results.
So, art is not for the privileged or those few who seem to be born with “talent.” Rather, art is an inherent part of our nature, one that can be denied and ignored or nurtured and recognized and strengthening us as individuals and as a society in the process.
Janet L Cornacchio
Janet Cornacchio is an artist member of Front Street Art Gallery, President of Scituate Arts Association & a Realtor. You can contact her at email@example.com