It was recently brought to my attention by a fellow art educator that the
oldest profession on earth, contrary to the popularly held belief, is art.
This quote has caused me to change my thinking a little bit. Now when I
think about the oldest profession, I envision a cave painting created by an
early cave mom as she documented her daily life, her family rituals, and all
those important things that needed to be passed from one generation to the
Every cave painting means something. They meant something then. They mean
Cave paintings provide a link to a past that could have been lost or
They give us a peek at what life was like long ago.
Like all good art - whether old or new - cave paintings offer up many
questions to consider. They cause us to think in divergent, but logical ways
to find the answers to the questions that they pose.
Art, in whatever form, makes us think. And doesn't good thinking support
The visual arts, when taught correctly and appropriately, develop deep
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.
This probably seems like a good argument for keeping the arts in the
curriculum-to include the arts as support for the so-called core curriculum.
But I am not saying that at all. I will never offer that argument.
The visual arts are a worthy course of study within and of themselves. There
is no reason that the visual arts should be included as a support system or
the handmaiden to any other content area.
Let me make one thing absolutely clear. 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 isolated studies.
If what I have said sounds contradictory-that I promote the teaching of
interdisciplinary connections, but I do not promote the concept of the arts
as a support system, give me a moment to explain. There is a world of
difference between teaching THROUGH the arts and USING 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. These are the kids who stay in school.
Learning to questions 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
It's been my experience that kids who are in this type of an arts program
are the kids who will read different sorts of books--challenging sorts of
books--and they'll learn to read these books in a different way. These are
the students who will read newspapers and read them in a different way.
Watch TV; but in a different way. They'll look at their world, but in a
different way. How so, you ask? A good art program will teach kids to
question. These are the kids who will refuse to accept trite answers or be
bulldozed by the media.
Four years ago I took a break from working in the university environment and
gave myself a dose of reality. This dose of reality came in the form of a
school in a lower income area. Under one roof we housed no fewer than 23
languages and 50 cultures at any given time. It was not unusual to have a
dozen or more languages spoken in a single classroom.
What I saw during the three years that I worked with these children, mainly
children of first-generation immigrants, is that my art program became the
great equalizer. It leveled the playing field caused by language barriers,
social barriers, and economic barriers. I think this happened because of
four essential things that went on in my classroom:
1.. The kids were active learners.
2.. They were taught to ask probing questions.
3.. They were encouraged to seek diverse and multiple solutions.
4.. They had to test and defend their own responses.
5.. They were taught to test the responses of others -- including me.
I ask that you consider that a quality arts education matters and therefore
it matters how it is taught and who teaches it.
A few points I wish to make in closing:
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. To this end, art-learning needs to me 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.
Derek E, Gordon, Senior Vice-President of the Kennedy Center sites the
mission statement of the Center: "The arts are a critical and essential part
of the education of every young person in America."
I encourage you to take this mission statement to heart; to consider the
importance of this statement when contemplating why QUALITY art education
belongs in every school.