Why advocate the arts? What does it do for society? Does it cultivate a more productive citizenry? Certainly we can become more “well rounded” individuals through arts education, exploring human expression through the ages, dating back to the dawn of man and our first cave paintings. But do we actually become more productive members of society? Can the arts actually allow us to become better thinkers? I, and many others contend; yes, we are better thinkers due in large part to training received in the arts. Herein, I will make a case for the common sense approach as to why the arts belong in our classrooms, and our society at large.
We could all agree that some basic attributes help humans excel in the world around them. First of which is the understanding that nearly every human endeavor is furthered by degrees in proportion to the amount of discipline applied to that endeavor. An Olympic athlete trains for years to be a world competitor. Key to his or her journey to the pinnacle of success is indeed, discipline. I contend that the arts train us in the many ways of self-discipline. The ballerina does not come to perfection by chance. The concert violinist attains harmony in the orchestra through practice, rehearsal, and more practice. The meticulous draftsman toils for hours a day, sometimes for years before a drawing comes to life, ready to leap off the page with its very own energy. The arts teach us that to become better, we must apply ourselves. We must master materials, instruments and craft. Discipline then, as taught in the arts is certainly a key attribute of any advanced civilization.
When Congress created the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965, it was wisely noted that "An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future." 1
Throughout the course of human life, we have all known people who approached a problem from a unique viewpoint, ultimately discovering a solution to a problem in an unconventional fashion. This is the proverbial creative thinker. Corporate trainers across the land have recently come to embrace this individual who thinks “outside the box” as it is now commonly referred to. Corporate cultures in America have come to promote and seek out this individual, whereas in days past, he or she was ridiculed for not staying “inside the lines”. Corporations now hail this person as the very model of a modern problem solver. The creative problem solver is now sought out as never before. This is due in large part to our awareness that this person has the ability to cut production costs. He or she is able to come up with new and better safety procedures. They seem to find alternate solutions where before, a lack of options painted us into a very costly corner. Yes, free thinkers are living assets to corporations these days. Hopefully other forward minded companies will follow this progressive model of rewarding the creative individual.
Speaking from personal experience, I would say that my own education, in the discipline of painting, opened my mind to look at the world differently, and from many angles. This ability to think abstractly, on several different levels is just the kind perspective one engages in when thinking above, over and sometimes right through a problem.
One group pushing for more arts funding is Americans For The Arts. They consider
themselves to be the one of the nation's preeminent arts advocacy organizations.
Dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for
every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. The three main
goals of this group are as follows:
In a sample letter to President Bush, for Arts Advocacy Day (March 20th.) 2001 The
“… the arts can be a powerful tool to help meet your goal of improving the education of
America's youth. Studies have shown a compelling link between the arts and enhanced
school achievement. Additionally, a Justice Department report demonstrated that after-
school arts education programs dramatically improved the academic performance and
attendance of troubled youth.” 2
In a foreword to the book Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, the Secretary of the Department of Education, Richard Riley writes, “… American education … is in transition. We are a more diverse society facing daunting demands from global social and technological innovation. The American economy is shifting from a manufacturing-driven engine to a services-driven enterprise. If young Americans are to succeed and to contribute to what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan describes as our “economy of ideas,” they will need an education that develops imaginative, flexible and tough-minded thinking. The arts powerfully nurture the ability to think in this manner.” 3
The arts then, are clearly central to perfecting a variety of disciplines. The arts are key to broadening horizons and cultivating a society of freethinking problem solvers. My favorite local bookstore claims that, “One civilized reader is worth a thousand boneheads”. This may indeed be true if we value culture and intellect in our society. Why support the arts then? Well, they cultivate culture. They intimate intelligence. The arts refine the soul, and tame the savage beast within us all. We are richer in mind, body and spirit for the arts being all around us. May they pervade our society for evermore and bring us closer to ourselves, and the universe in which we share the human experience.