Last year I was asked to deliver a talk to local and state administrators
(including the superintendent of schools for the state) on this very topic.
What I said to the group, I think, surprised a few folks. Here are some
notes from that talk --- which were posted here shortly after the talk.
There are significant links between and among the arts and other content
areas and I am a tremendous proponent of teaching through the arts to make
meaningful connections. To give kids the "ah ha" that is often missing in
Perhaps those of you who are faced with this challenge of improving tests
scores through art will consider that art is a content area worth teaching
in and of itself. There is no reason that the arts should be used as the
handmaiden for other content areas. If art is taught correctly --- with real
learning objectives and enduring ideas rather than isolated activities that
produce nothing more than pretty pictures --- art will positively impact
test scores. But perhaps not in the way that administrators think it will.
Benjamin Ives Gilman -the man who introduced docents to art museums, said,
"Teach through a work of art; not from it or about it." There is a world of
difference between teaching THROUGH the arts and USING the arts.
If we look at the Profile of College-Bound Seniors compiled by the College
Board in 2002, we find that in 2002 those students who scored the best on
SAT verbal and mathematics assessments were those students whose coursework
in high school included the arts. Research shows us that kids who are taught
to question and to support their answers with reasoned responses are the
kids who do better in the studies across the curriculum. Learning to
question and respond with reasoned and supported answers is what the visual
arts are about.
In my estimation, a good art program at any grade level k - 12 should teach
1.. Look at art
2.. Think about art
3.. Communicate about art in a variety of ways
4.. Make art
I've seen five essential things happen in art rooms where art is taught with
1.. Kids are active learners.
2.. Kids ask probing questions.
3.. Students seek diverse and multiple solutions.
4.. Students test and defend their own responses.
5.. Kids test the responses of others -- including the instructor.
A few points to consider:
1.. Students deserve no less than an art specialist as their teacher. You
wouldn't ask me-an acknowledged math illiterate-to teach algebra. Don't ask
a visual illiterate to teach art.
2.. All students should have ample time on a regular basis to experience
3.. Artwork should reflect learning. It's not about making something cute
for the refrigerator; moreover, it's not about making something "in the
style of" a well-known master. It's not about cookie cutter crafts or
decorating the halls or making stage props. Art is about thinking and
planning and learning and reflecting and making meaningful connections.
4.. To this end, art learning needs to be assessed just the same as any
other core subject. After all, if something is worth teaching, it is worth
assessing. And the arts are worth teaching.