Part Five – Real Life and the Necessary Arts
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
(See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
(See Part Three, posted on August 11, 2013)
(See Part Four, posted on August 29, 2013)
The eight cognitive outcomes resulting from arts learning and the four personal learning indicators identified
the expression of ideas and feelings
the ability to make connections
the ability to layer relationships
improved construction and organization of meaning
the ability to take multiple or alternative viewpoints
the ability to imagine new possibilities
improved sensory learning
by Horowitz bear repeating:
The personal learning indicators resulting from arts learning:
a sense of competence
a sense of ownership of learning
I’ve stated that the seeds of a paradigm shift are extant in all of the items above because they transcend the
classroom and academic subjects; they are attributes that can have profound impact on the developmental “real
life” of every student. If arts learning is capable of engendering character attributes this deep, then arts
teaching – everything from basic subject matter to the teachers’ approaches, to the presentation of material
needs to catch up. That is, having identified these attributes, it is incumbent upon teaching artists and teachers
of the arts in general to make a conscious effort to ensure that what they teach has relevance and importance
in the students’ lives outside the classroom. This means moving away from a purely subject-centered approach
which, in my experience, is the norm.
Since it is probably safe to say that the arts, in any form, will never be included in standardized testing,
arts educators are not, theoretically speaking, bound by the same constraints (either aesthetic or administrative)
as their standardized counterparts. However, more often than not we see classroom regimentation (“today, class,
everyone is going to sketch a sneaker”). Students are often subjected to a lacklustre and unoriginal approach.
My own son’s fifth grade art teacher simply “taught” by rote, using Betty Edwards’s wonderful book, Drawing on
the Right Side of the Brain. I witnessed first-hand how the exercises were rendered dry and boring when
filtered through this particular educator’s “academic” sensibilities.
Arts education ought to be a bastion of expression, of passions, of emotional exploration through each
individual medium with students given free reign to experiment. There is nothing whatsoever at risk by making
it so, nothing threatening to bring controversy or shame down on the schools.
The new paradigm of a life-centered approach to the arts will, by its very nature, demonstrate just how necessary
they are. This means change.
The title of this essay, Resolved: The Arts Are Unecessary, was conceived to be intentionally disturbing and,
yes, even to provoke some healthy indignation. Arts educators are crying out for change, but innovative ideas
are a) in short supply; or b) brought to light and subsequently quashed by an uncomprehending administration; or
c) a rehash or compromised idea that yields a convoluted version of the status quo — which is then used to
null-and-void the idea of change, declaring it untenable. Change is demanded, yet, our own human nature is to
undermine it; in every arena I’ve worked in, from the corporate sector, to marketing (which included both
graphic arts and copywriting), to not-for-profit arts. When even a small change is seen coming around the corner,
everyone clings either to what worked in the past, or worse, they cling possessively to what didn’t work (the
very things that prompted the urgent demand for change in the first place!) out of fear of the unknown.
The wounded collective arts ego, weakened by years of cut-backs, continually defunded and demoralized, has
adopted a defensive posture, with each discipline proclaiming its own specialness, each fighting over the same
scraps. This results in a) setting the various disciplines at odds, (very effective, enabling the “powers that be” to
divide and conquer); b)each discipline closing itself off to the point where productive communication becomes difficult;
c) repetition of the same ineffective patterns; d) a very prevalent, condescending stance, i.e., that our administrators,
our audiences, our public officials, the public in general “need to be educated about the arts” in order to appreciate
their importance. For over forty years, since I was in high school, I have heard that phrase spoken countless times by
teachers, artistic directors, and arts programmers in virtually every field.
This has brought arts education to the point where, in many ways, it has become woefully arts-centric. The
teaching method is, to a great extent, teaching the discipline for the discipline’s sake. Many years ago, there
I was in algebra class; I had the presence of mind to ask “when will I ever need this in real life?” So it is with
students today. “Yeah, I heard Mozart in music class, but what’s he got to do with me? I’m into Sage the Gemini
and I’m going to be a rap star!”
The truth is, the arts are necessary. In fact, they are essential to just about every conceivable field of endeavor.
Furthermore, without them, many businesses, industries and much of the global economy, would grind to a halt.
In my opinion, students never learn this. Arts educators, at least in my experience, while ready at the drop
of a hat to extoll the importance of the arts, seem barely aware of how to demonstrate, even at a basic level,
how profoundly the arts permeate every facet our lives every day.
So, the time for disturbing essay titles is over. Let’s lay out a basic framework for a paradigm shift.
RESOLVED: THE ARTS ARE UNNECESSARY
Part Six – Good Things Happen in 3s