There’s More to Art Than Meets the Eye
It’s part of who we are!
Almost everyone has heard of Grandma Moses—her nickname—better known as Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961). Moses was a renowned American folk artist who began painting at the age of 78. She is often cited as an example of someone successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age, according to historians.
I like to relate to Ms. Moses because when I turned 40 my mother brought me a package of childhood memorabilia that she had been saving. Eager to find out what was in the large manila envelope, I thumbed through the stack of items and found my elementary school report cards. To my surprise, the teachers notes in grades first through fourth all said, “develop her art”. Eager to know more, I discovered a small folded newspaper article announcing I had won an art contest in the third grade. I vaguely recalled that photo represented in the newspaper.
After reviewing the memorabilia I had an ahah moment and remember thinking, What an eye opener! I never knew I had the ability. A year or so later—don’t remember where we were—I showed my husband a drawing of a church that I had done for my gramma as a Christmas gift many years earlier. He bought me a set of drawing pencils that year and encouraged me to develop my art. It was another year before I began to draw and nine months later was accepted into my first art show in West Palm Beach, FL. It opened up an entire new world for me and set me on a path of discovery. Only then did I come to understand the value of art education in the life of a child and researched the connection to our development.
Art aids in the development of our children
In an article titled, The Importance of Art in Child Development, the author, Grace Hwang Lynch, points out some issues arising from the movement towards common core. Grace states, “In recent years, school curricula in the United States have shifted heavily toward common core subjects of reading and math, but what about the arts? Although some may regard art education as a luxury, simple creative activities are some of the building blocks of child development. Learning to create and appreciate visual aesthetics may be more important than ever to the development of the next generation of children as they grow up.”
In the article Lynch discusses some developmental benefits such as motor skills, language development, decision making, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness, and improved academic performance. “Studies show that there is a correlation between art and other achievement. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.”
Art aids in the reduction of criminal behavior
Who of us haven’t heard stories about the beautiful art that many men and women sentenced to time in prison create? With time on their hands and nowhere to go it is an activity that many inmates come to develop and learn to appreciate. The renderings and paintings by many who are incarcerated are worthy of induction into some of America’s greatest museums.
Especially of interest to me as an advocate of anti-human trafficking in the United States is the reality that proves introducing youth to the arts can reduce the number of incidence in criminal behavior. What if those who only discover their love and gift for art had been encouraged as youth to pursue it? How many of them would have bypassed criminal life? Or, how many would have been less “at-risk” because their thought processes and decision making skills had been developed?
In a fact sheet created by the Arts Network for Children and Youth, the City of Ft. Meyers Police claim a 28% drop in juvenile arrests since the introduction of the STARS Program (an after school program for youth) which provided recreational and artistic outlet. “Coming Up Taller” J. Weitz Presidents committee on the arts and humanities 1996 page 71.
Additionally, the fact sheet states, “The role of art in crime prevention is far reaching. The arts offers opportunities for youth to gain new skills, establish positive peer relationships, and take learning risks in untraditional ways. Community art programming engages at-risk youth who are typically detached from their family, school or community. When delivered by and through quality art programming, issues facing at-risk youth such as low self-esteem, low school success, and substance abuse are considerably reduced. Creative arts are very successful in encouraging youth to become active participants in their own lives.”
Is art in America’s schools becoming extinct?
When budget cuts happen, the arts are the first to go. Fewer schools offer art classes today than a decade ago, according to Valeriya Metla in her article, School Arts Programs, Should They Be Saved? Metla says, “Following the recent recession, budgets cuts were consistent in schools across the U.S., with more than 95 percent of students attending schools with significantly reduced budgets. It’s estimated that since 2008, more than 80 percent of schools nationwide experienced cuts to their budgets. As a remedy in some instances, art programs were partially or completely eliminated from affected school districts.”
She goes on to inform her readers that, “The number of schools that offered music classes didn’t change significantly over the last decade, indicating no budget cuts in that subject area, with 94 percent of schools still offering music classes. But the number of schools offering visual arts programs dropped from 87 percent in 1999-2000 to 83 percent in 2009-10.”
With all of the research about this topic over the decades, educators have stayed the course and continued to sound the alarm. We must have arts in our schools. National Core Arts Standards have been recently created and this will hopefully bring creative arts back to the schools where they belong. In the meantime, with this data we can deduct that communities can support their children and step up to the plate to fill the gap. Every child needs to be introduced to art and be given an opportunity to develop the creativity within. Imagine the next generation should we take the challenge! With America having only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the worlds prison population, isn’t this a no brainer!