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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Make a Sketch: The Importance of Art in Education

Sometimes, drawing beats drilling when it comes to learning.
By Sara Bernard
Credit: Jeffrey Decoster

Many schools face nasty budget cuts that threaten to eliminate their art programs, so the prospect of carving off a chunk of time for classroom instruction in drawing, painting, or sculpting seems rather bleak. Such gloom, however, perpetuates the myth that the arts should be confined to their respective sections of the school day, isolated from more "intellectual" endeavors.

In fact, according to a compendium of research published by the Arts Education Partnership, a coalition of philanthropic and government organizations focused on the role of arts in learning, academic success may actually depend as much on drawing as it does on geometry.

The partnership's research builds on educator Howard Gardner's seminal theory of multiple intelligences to indicate that arts education -- including the visual arts, dance, music, and drama -- enhances a student's ability to acquire core academic skills. Study in painting or drawing, for example, can improve complex reasoning, writing, and reading readiness, partly because the critical and creative faculties required to generate and appreciate art transfer cognitively to future learning experiences, and partly because the arts make learning fun: A student personally invested in his or her work will be far more likely to stick with it.

No surprise, then, that students exposed to these forms of creative expression achieve higher scores on standardized tests, or that at-risk students are more likely to stay in school when they participate in an arts program. At New York City's Heritage School, for instance, the arts are considered as important as other major subjects, says Principal Peter Dillon. Three-quarters of the students head off to four-year colleges.

"The observational skills needed to draw a careful sketch of a leaf, are the same skills you need to figure out scientifically what's going on in a pond, which are the same skills you need to 'read' your classmates," explains Dillon. And although his school's success depends on many factors, "I know there's a strong connection" between the arts and learning, he says. "I see it every day."

So, while it still may be tough to set out paint and clay for concentrated instruction, it's easy to add some colored pencils to an activity for a few moments at the beginning of the day or just before a break. It's worth the minutes.

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer for Edutopia.

Comments (4)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

White Fangs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with the creators of this site. studies are a lot more fun and become meaningful when combined with art. I am a medical student and god knows how tedious my studies would be if i couldnt make it fun by drawing, making songs etc.

Eddie Obregon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Art education has never received the credibility and support in this country that it so desperately deserves.

I agree, there is an abundance of research which supports the theory that a rich art education can enhance cognitive skills in other areas of learning.

The question remains, what is the mystery surrounding art education that so many administrators fail to recognize its importance in the learning process?

Lucy McAlister's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is so affirming and encouraging.
It is important to have
Gardiner's studies to back up the importance
of art.
Many people walk by and don't know the
importance of creativity.

Alecia Buckles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a senior at Ridgeland High School. I am working on a senior project which involves a paper on The Importance Of Art Education. Art is my passion and i want everyone to understand how important it is. This website helps prove the need of art in schools. I am also creating and holding art courses in local middle and elementary schools to help improve the art education in this area. I might possibly widen my courses to local children's hospitals to prove art can cure or help pain. It takes more than one to improve this art society that has been struck down. Thanks for listening.

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