Part Two – Lip Service and Art Class
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
All the lip service devoted to how the arts are important is clichéd. Michelle Obama’s words on the last Oscars
notwithstanding, the arts are continually “branded” as if they’re something outside the norm. Why? It’s due in
large part to the fact that during students’ formative years, educators look at art as something exclusive to
those who are talented. Art classes (the basic painting/drawing classes and music/band classes) do involve
everyone but teachers gravitate toward those they perceive to have talent. It’s just a perceived “given” that
most are average, and therefore either passed over or routinely accepted, but only those with promise are
encouraged. What other fields foster that kind of attitude? In classes like Science, Math, History and language
skills, yes, it’s understood that some possess more skill or greater potential than others, but all students are
expected to measure up, regardless. At the core of such expectation is standardized testing. Our perception
that these other subjects absolutely demand a certain level of comprehension and ability simply do not apply to the
arts. This mentality relegates the arts to something for those that are interested in them or who demonstrate, if not
an above-average ability, a strong desire on the part of the student.
It’s obvious, regardless of subject, that there are some students who possess abilities that surpass their peers.
Some love and excel at the sciences. Others at math. For some, these disciplines will engender lifelong career
pursuits. This understanding, that some students gravitate toward specific subjects is, for the most part, nurtured
in every area of endeavor except the arts. The prevailing parental attitude toward students who decide to pursue a
career in the arts is that it’s more a flight of fancy than a valid career goal; the hope is that they’ll grow out of
it. And most do.
While the predominant perception of the arts in general, we’ve seen, is that they’re something extra, something
outside the norm, the predominant media message is that the arts (and our school boards, public figures, politicians
and celebrities say it with conviction) are still very important, “vital,” in fact. They’re so important that the
minute a school district’s budget is shrinking – poof – like magic, the art class or music class disappears. As a
teaching artist, I have been brought to schools in which my brief workshop, for a single class, was the only music
program that existed in the entire school.
One solution has been to make the arts an extracurricular activity, an after-school program. Students are neither
required to participate, neither are they graded. Another solution is to bring in teaching artists occasionally and
expose students to all the arts periodically throughout the year.
But there’s a big, fragrant elephant in the room that needs some shoveling up after.
RESOLVED: THE ARTS ARE UNNECESSARY
Part Three – The Elephant in the Room