Observations on the Importance of Art Education 7, pt 2
  Brain Development and Art/Creativity

 

          To repeat--one idea that I’ve stressed often and hopefully well is that we all can both appreciate and/or create art.  Last time we began to explore the importance of the arts-visual, dance, music, theater and athletics-in brain development.  And the final summary was that despite frequent modern misperceptions, art is not for the privileged or those few who seem to be born with “talent.”   Rather it is an inherent part of our nature, one that can be denied and ignored or nurtured and recognized, strengthening us as individuals and as a society in the process.  This time let’s explore some specifics about brain development and art/creativity.
      I have lived long enough to see many philosophical shifts in education theory with the current one stressing “core curriculum” as in reading and math.  What becomes of the role of the arts in K–12 education when great stress is place on one or two aspects of learning?   Under these circumstances art programs are often trimmed or disappear so more time and money can be spent on the “basics” whereas many a professional educator will that tell you that that the arts and creativity go hand and hand with encouraging students to become stronger readers and mathematicians along with better writers.
         Is it really necessary to use the role of the arts in math and reading development to justify their part in curriculum development?   Doesn’t art have a set of skills and knowledge that it fosters that is valuable in its own right.  Brain functions such as meditation and imagination are not clearly understood yet no one doubts the importance of these valuable talents, which have allowed human beings to develop advanced and sophisticated cultures.  A look at some basic human conceptual skills may help illuminate the relationship between the arts and expansion of brain function.
          Creative activities including visual, aural and movement-based arts and sports develop “Image Producers” who can use both imaging (internal visualization of an actual experience like a gorgeous sunset or memories from a trip) and imagining (internal visualization of something not experienced like a picturing the characters and events in book without illustrations ).  Imaging, we almost all do instinctively; imagining may require guidance and training.  Either is an excellent aid to memory, to enhance understanding and increase retention or how to remember what they are learning. Teachers can help students search their minds for images and  select images that enhance learning and increase retention.  Individuals can be taught to search their minds for images and select appropriate images that help them learn how to remember information.  I know for years I carried images of biology notes I memorized.  They included diagrams and other visual images along with the terminology and other facts which made it easier to remember as a whole pattern.  Artists are often visual or kinesthetic learners combing imagery and action (drawing, rewriting, organizing information in patterns).  These techniques can work in helping memorize sheet music or sports plays or civil war battlefield tactics.  Classroom activities that integrate these imaging and imagining will benefit by providing a stronger retention of what is taught.  By their very nature arts and sports programs imagery producers are created.
         If imaging and imagining are techniques with multiple ramifications for learning, retention and comprehension, the integration of the arts with curriculum results in more effective lessons and educational programs.  Having written a copyrighted curriculum based on in-classroom experience, I can attest to the value of using hands on techniques to enhance learning.  Plays, illustrating stories, creating mobiles with parts of a lesson were a few of the techniques my co-teacher and I employed.  Students taught in this manner with project-based and cooperative learning groups are much more enthusiastic, involved and tend to better remember what they are taught. The goal is to draw in parents, encourage collaboration between classes and teachers including art teachers and other specialists.  Hopefully along the way they will realize how integrating the arts with curriculum improves the quality of their learning environment while providing a continuous stream of arts experiences.
          As we are an animal that walks erect on two legs and need
to survive by hunting sophisticated movements need to be learned.  Controlling our voluntary muscular systems begins at birth.  A newborn can control its tongue, sticking it out voluntarily as that control is required in sucking and necessary to survival at birth.  Gradually from birth through adolescence humans begin to develop smoothly controlled muscle movements—from the ability to eat, grasp, crawl, walk than run—mobility is essential to human survival whether to chase prey or run from danger.  Most of these survival-level skills, both cognitive and muscular are innate but with training can go beyond basic survival skill to mastery.  To achieve master level skills often requires not just talent but commitment and early and extensive training.  Children’s play becomes the warriors of early societies or the athletes training on the fields more often today or throughout history the artists who share their imaginings in concrete fashion which until the modern era survived as a record of their cultures beliefs and history.
   What does this have to do with art and creativity?  Certainly, image production, the integration of art as an aid in learning and mastery of voluntary muscular systems were essential to human survival through the 200 odd millenniums of human existence and as a result ignoring the arts fails to deal with an important force in how the human brain evolved, acquires knowledge and functions.   Next time, more on the importance of art in brain development and human evolution.
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 jcornacch@aol.com