A recent study claims that arts education helps students in many areas of academia, but does not mention whether it makes better artists
by Andrew W. Henderson
Talent is a definable a thing. Some people have it, and some people apparently don’t. The real question, though, is not whether talent exists, but rather, can talent be taught. Can a group of students sit in a circle in a classroom full of easels and be taught to be better artists? To put it more simply, does arts education work?
On December 3, 2014, Education Week, which calls itself “America’s most respected source for education news and insight”, published an article stating that arts education was a valuable part of a student’s educational experience, and that they had empirical evidence to back up the claim.
The authors explained their methods thusly: “We looked at whether exposure to the arts affected students’ knowledge of the arts and altered their desire to consume the arts in the future. We also looked at whether art experiences had an effect on student values, such as tolerance and empathy. Finally, we looked at whether students’ ability to engage in critical thinking about the arts was affected by these experiences.”
The conclusions were all positive. They claim that students who experienced an arts education were more interested in the arts, were more empathetic to their peers and had a stronger sense of critical thought.
Fine, that is all very well and good, but studies like this are not anything new. What I want to know is whether these classes are making people better artists.
Abigail Michalowski, a fine artist from Valencia, Penn and a former Bachelor of Fine Arts and Paining, thinks that it does.
She said that she always had a passion for art, but her early works suffered from a lack of knowledge.
“I had to learn how the human body works and how shading works,” she said. “My art teacher in high school was super encouraging. She was very good at telling me when things were super cliché or not realistic looking.”
Michalowski attended Mars High School, where the arts were not a primary focus. Because of this, only a small group of students took more than the minimum requirements in art. This small group of students became very close.
“My art classes consisted of this core of six people who just stuck together because we were the only artsy people in the whole school. I want to say it was like inbreeding for the artistic process,” she stopped and laughed. “That’s probably a terrible metaphor!”
Michalowski’s peers helped her to realize her own style, a unique blend of classical drawing techniques and dark imagery and religious symbolism.
“They called me out on a lot of stuff that was really trite, but they were really encouraging about the stuff that I was good at. They were like ‘hey, you have this strength, you should follow it’. I found out really quickly in that class that I was good at dark art and weird imagery.”
Jonathan May, a filmmaker from Bigfork, Montana, and film major at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, had a different experience.
“I know what I want to do as an artist, but I’m not allowed to do it,” he said, criticizing his film professors.
He said that you can’t teach someone to be talented.
“I think you can teach someone the technical side of things,” he explained, “but you can’t teach someone to have an artistic eye. You can teach someone about the rule of thirds, but it takes a special eye to know what makes a good shot.”
He admitted that his arts education gave him the opportunities to work with equipment and software that he wouldn’t have had the resources to work with independently. He also spoke highly of his ability to make connections as a film student.
His most recent film, a relationship drama entitled “Agatha” will be streaming in a local movie theater, along with the works of several of his fellow students – an opportunity he would not have had outside of his educational situation.
He still feels that while his education provided him these opportunities, it was not the education that made him a great filmmaker – that was resident within him anyway.
“You can teach someone the rules,” he said, “but the best artists break the rules.”
Michalowski spoke about breaking the rules as well.
“You have to know what the rules are to break them effectively,” she said. “You have to know the basics before you can stylize.”
Regardless of whether or not an arts education can walk someone through to becoming talented, the research done by the Education Week team shows that arts education does create a respect and an interest in the arts in young students.
Submitted to Point Park News Service