Earlier this year I had to give a short talk explaining why art education is important. Inspired by Andy J. Pizza invisible things illustration series, I created a series of illustrated cards showing the invisible skills that drawing and painting can help develop.
I think the drawings might be worth sharing to a wider audience too.
When I told my Dad I wanted to study art
When I told my Dad I wanted to study art, he was delighted. He told me I might as well go directly to the Job Centre and skip the ‘study’ bit. Success and art were not words that belonged together.
Of course, I didn’t listen to my Dad and enrolled an art degree. That was me below.
Why is art education important?
I was 18 and after taking A levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, I just decided to study a subject I liked. I thought it was cool to be able to draw too.
But why is art education important? Art boosts creativity, and people enjoy looking at artwork. Yet art is much more than pretty pictures in galleries.
Invisible skills developed trough learning art
In insight, I believe art classes do more than teaching students to draw, paint or be creative. Art helps develop a set of invisible skills, some obvious, others less so, that are valuable and transferable ‘life skills’.
Drawing or painting from life helps you develop observation skills. As you look at and study the world around you suddenly see things you had never noticed before. You develop a new understanding of your environment.
Art teaches also how visual communication works. Students learn how to express opinions and feelings and communicate effectively with images – a key skill in our visual world.
As you analyse and reflect on your own artwork, the work of your peers and/or that of recognised artists, you develop your critical thinking skills. Students become able to observe, analyse, draw conclusions and communicate their ideas and opinions.
Improved mental health
Several studies have shown that creative activities such as drawing and painting lead to improved mental health. Making art helps you deal with difficult situations and stress encountered in everyday life. Clinical reviews also show engaging in the visual arts reduces levels of depression and anxiety, increases self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem and stimulates re-engagement with the wider, everyday social world.
Drawing and painting can help children (and adults) challenge themselves in safe environments as they experiment with new materials and try harder tasks. They can set up their own challenges too, taking ownership of their learning.
Art classrooms are also safe places for students to practice taking risks, experiment and try new things.
When you create artwork you choose colours, style, subject matter, composition and more as you create your artwork. Practicing decision making in a safe environment (the worse outcome might be a bad drawing) can help build a student’s confidence.
Dealing with the unknown
Art is a journey into the unknown. You start with an idea and it develops and evolves as you make the artwork and experiment (some artists explain this process by saying their work ‘just happens’). You need to work with an open mind, not knowing exactly where your journey will take you.
Dealing with imperfection
Most children find it difficult to deal with imperfection. When they start drawing and stumble upon what they perceive as a mistake, they stop. They want to rub out their drawing, or crunch it up and start again. Yet it is often the ‘mistakes’ or accidents that give artwork quirkiness and character. Often in art, there is no right and wrong. This gives children an opportunity to embrace perceived mistakes and work with them rather than fear and avoid them.
Art classes improve academic performance
Some American studies have shown that 3 hours a week art classes lead to improved discipline, attendance and higher grades across all subjects. So teaching art, rather than being a waste of time, improves performance across the board.
Everything in our environment is designed
Our clothes, furniture, the posts we read on social media, adverts, food packaging – everything around us is designed, even the book cover in the illustration below. Please note it’s a real book I stumbled upon in the library, not one that I made up (and no, I am not quite that old).
From film and social media to illustration and graphic design, there are lots of jobs in creative industries. Even if you don’t work in those industries you will need to make presentations, write documents and communicate effectively through visually as well as verbally in most jobs.
Even my Dad changed his mind
Recently I was talking to my Dad about art in schools when he told me ‘Teaching art in schools is really important’. I was wondering if it was a joke when he added ‘Art is good for kids – I read it in the paper’.
So while very few children will become artists, some will work in creative industries and hopefully, many will keep practicing art as a hobby, a way to relax or make sense of their feelings and the world around them. There’s value in that… and art is good for kids (even my Dad says so!).