Art has always been important to societies and cultures, even before the practice of painting, carving, sculpture, writing/mark making were given the term “art”. Ancient humans documented their activities, their surroundings, their triumphs and tragedies on cave walls, on rocks, on objects made from the soil (pottery), on and from wood, metal, plants., shells and other natural materials. It’s as if they were driven to do so by an innate force, a need to tell their story, an outlet of expression not available yet through structured speech or other forms of formal communication.
Plato was the first to philosophize about art and to rationalize its importance to individuals and societies. Plato defined art as “all skills in making or doing”, which included all art forms from tool making and carpentry to music, poetry and dance, among others, classified as “productive” arts, or art practices that result in some form of final product that is sensible by a viewer/reader/listener.
Art is, by many accounts, the basis of a progressive, productive, and stable culture. Art can be therapy. Art can be a bridge between cultures. Art can be a force of change. To be a force for societal improvement, art must first reach the public. It must be available and accessible. The public must also appreciate the value of the art - not its monetary value but its intrinsic value. The viewer/reader/listener should gain a new appreciation for the human experience and be moved to action on a personal or larger scale. It could be as simple as a greater individual appreciation of the small, generally unnoticed things around us or as large as the plight of an entire society or culture. Art appreciation doesn’t necessarily require the viewer/reader/listener to know the historical context of the work, however.
A present concern is how art is perceived in our technological age of instant gratification. How does the flood of electronic devices, the internet, email & text messaging and the instant gratification that engenders affect our perception and sense of the world around us? How much contemplation and critical thinking, deep discussion and debate are taking place now among the next generation?
How is creativity being affected both by the onslaught of technology and its increasing prevalence in our society? I’m not a Luddite, but how do we incorporate technology into the traditional arts? Is it possible to get the same satisfaction from working with your hands through a keyboard or electronic stylus? As a photographer using digital technology, I sometimes look at the convenience of the medium as a positive. Other times, I miss the creation of a photographic print in the “magic” of the darkroom, working my hands under the enlarger to dodge and burn, sloshing the print in the tray of chemicals, wiping the print and hanging it to dry, waiting for the dry-down to see the actual representation of the image. I sometimes think technology, for many artists, is creating a barrier between the artist’s mind and the medium. The important aspect of spontaneity is easily lost when colors, blending, marks, lines and interactions are so rigidly controlled by formulas and pixels. The feel of a brush against canvas or pencil against paper or hands on clay cannot be replicated on a computer or in an imaging device (at least not now).
Creativity is essentially a form of human expression that communicates the emotional and intellectual thoughts and feelings of individuals toward self, dreams and visions, various issues, or relationships. Therefore, all people are creative since a primary aspect of creativity is humanity. Interacting with materials is a human endeavor and not all humans have access to technology. Will art created using natural materials be thought of as inferior at some point in the future? Or will it be more revered as a lost art? Art frees the mind from rigid certainty, allowing us to stretch our minds beyond the boundaries of devices and our own physical limitations.
There are seven primary ways to communicate information:
At least five of those communication methods are related to art and all can be applied artistically. Art provides the foundation for other skills, such as reasoning, decision making, creative thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, and visualization. The successful use of art in physical and mental therapies is well documented. I was watching a show on television called Bioneers, on Free Speech TV, and a speaker at a conference was saying how art in education (schools) is usually the first program to be cut when budgets are tight. However, studies have shown when art programs are cut due to budget restrictions, schools end up actually spending more money. Every school that eliminated art, in a recent study, showed a decrease in morale and attendance and an increase in vandalism and disruptions. Within 3 years of art programs being cut, most schools in the study had to add disciplinary staff to account for problems presumably caused by the lack of art programs. Art is an outlet for expression (this will be said more than once) and when that avenue of expression is cut off, other expressive activities take their place, such as vandalism, fighting, truancy, drug and alcohol use, drops in grades and interest in school, and other behavioral problems.
Other studies have shown that students who participate in the arts score higher on SAT tests, regardless of socio-economic status, and art programs decrease negative behaviors and increase attention span, commitment, and tolerance. Art encourages understanding as well as exposing misunderstanding. Through art, the individual gains a better understanding about his or her place in society and about societies and the world as a whole. Society profits when the individual puts this new understanding into practice.
Here is a list of benefits art provides to society and to the individual:
Participating in art programs decreases negative behaviors.
Art programs improve academic performance.
Art programs reduce truancy.
Art provides positive outlets.
Art is an effective intervention strategy for troubled youth.
Art is an effective therapy for mental and physical illness.
Art helps develop and improve communication and social skills.
Art improves physical skills.
Art provides an avenue for expression and connection with peers through personal growth and cooperative learning experiences.
Art helps develop self-discipline.
Art encourages self-directed learning, helping to develop the capacity to strive for greater success.
Art encourages critical thinking.
Art programs help transform the school environment to one of discovery and learning.
Art gives students the opportunity to represent what they have learned, achieving greater comprehension and retention.
The arts are essential to understanding, promoting, and sharing of personal, local, national, and international cultures, past and present.
Art helps foster the attitude of life-long learning; that learning is a never-ending process.
Art provides challenges to the individual at all skill levels.
Art enhances cognitive and perceptual skills.
In art there are no barriers of race, religion, culture, geography or socio-economic level.
Art is an essential component to a healthy individual, healthy culture, and healthy planet. It’s unfortunate that art is often politicized and thought of as a luxury or expendable program. Art programs unlock and encourage the creative thinking process that drives innovation, something I don’t think “Grand Theft Auto” or “World of Warcraft” can accomplish on a large scale
“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him”
– John F. Kennedy
2007. Bioneers: Courage to walk in beauty. Free Speech TV.
2000 Heath, S.B. and M.W. McLaughlin. Community Count: How youth organizations matter for youth development.
1999. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Champions of Change: The impact of the arts on learning. Arts Education Partnership.
1991. US Dept of Labor. Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.
1987. Eisner, E. Why the arts are basic. Instructor’s 3R’s Special Issue: 34-35.
Kevan Nitzberg. Arts Advocacy: The importance of a strong arts education in schools. www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/middle/importance.htm