What’s So Important About the Arts?

By Jim Benz

During a school break, I was fortunate to have had ample time to indulge in the arts more than I usually get to do given my hectic work schedule. I studied art in college and taught art, my wife is a talented artist, and our daughter is studying animation, so you can imagine that when we have time together our conversations tend to be infused with some sort of art-related topics. These conversations brought to mind for me how our lives are enriched by the arts and how important the arts are in education.

The late Stanford professor Elliot Eisner articulated beautifully lessons the arts teach for a holistic education. I’ve pasted below Eisner’s brilliant “10 Lessons the Arts Teach” that have been adopted as a manifesto by the National Association of Art Education.

Peninsula students are fortunate that we have such a robust arts program both in the studios during Activities each and every day and integrated into the classrooms weekly or for special units. As you’ll read in #10, providing the arts with a place of importance in our program sends a strong message to students that the arts are an essential component of their education and their lives. 

The emphasis added in caps are from the National Art Education Association.

1 - The arts teach children to make GOOD JUDGMENTS about qualitative relationships. In the arts, it is judgment that prevails rather than rules and correct answers.
2 - The arts teach children that problems can have MORE than ONE solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
3 - The arts celebrate multiple PERSPECTIVES. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to SEE and INTERPRET the world.
4 - The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ABILITY and the WILLINGNESS to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
5 - The arts make VIVID the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can KNOW. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our COGNITION.
6 - The arts teach students that SMALL DIFFERENCES can have LARGE EFFECTS. The arts traffic in subtleties.
7 - The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which IMAGES become REAL.
8 - The arts help CHILDREN LEARN to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them FEEL, they must reach into their POETIC CAPACITIES to  find the words that will do the job.
9 - The ARTS ENABLE us to have EXPERIENCE we can have from no other source and through such experience to DISCOVER the range and variety of what we are capable of FEELING.
10 -The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults BELIEVE is IMPORTANT.