Why Is Art Important? My Year in the Classroom

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June 9, 2015

This year has been all about art in my household. I taught art in my kids’ classes and am now planning an art camp for 200 kids in a few weeks. I pretty much eat, breathe, and sleep art. A lot of articles out there can tell me why this type of education helps students. Research shows academic improvement, increased confidence, and enhanced problem solving ability. But in this lull between classes and camp, I find myself reflecting on those moments I witnessed first-hand, the proof I saw with my own eyes, the special you-had-to-be-there moments. More than studies and lists, these experiences showed me the importance of art.

Cultural Links

Within a few lessons, kids started coming up to me at pick-up. “Senora Ortega, that painting with the stars we talked about is in a commercial! You know that flower lady? We went to the bookstore and they had a book with a bunch of her pictures. We went to lunch and the restaurant had a mural like the guy you told us about.” They don’t know it, but they’ve made significant educational and cultural links to a higher tier of knowledge that not everyone has access to. It makes me so proud to think of them someday, not from a swanky private school or a rich family who has been to Europe, knowledgeably conversing about Van Gough, O’Keefe, and Rivera because they learned about them before they had time to be intimidated.

Art is Always a Success

There’s no wrong in art. I said that all the time, not just because I didn’t want meltdowns but because it’s true. Some of the kids struggle with every other subject. Some kids just had a rough time on a particular day. No matter what, they were successful at their art project. Unlike 2+2 or verb conjugation, art has no correct answers. Or perhaps I do better to say that art has infinite correct answers. Those kids looked around the room and saw that everyone had created something different and everyone was right. By saying, “Wow! That’s cool,” or “I like the color you used,” they learned that multiple perspectives enhanced an outcome rather than challenged their own value.

At first, the idea of “no wrong answers” challenged a few of the students. They wanted to know what exactly to put on their papers to make them right. I watch them grow by overcoming their doubt and finally putting something on that paper! Art inspires creativity through out-of-the-box thinking. The kids started taking risks from their imaginations just to see what would happen. “Senora Ortega, I tried this color and this color together and look what it made!” or “I made a tank out of just dots.”

A Reflection of the Soul

Perhaps the most profound outcome could only be seen as I looked over the whole year. We tackled a large variety of projects. Some involved the use of color, some covered symbolism, some surrounded movement. Each one affected the kids differently. At some point, they all had that moment when I could see their soul had connected to their hands and poured out into what they created. During our last project, we talked about Basquiat and his street art influenced work. A girl who enjoys art, but usually finishes fairly quickly, chose to fill her paper with words, signs, doodles, and all sorts of things important to her. Finally, finally, it wasn’t just a fun time messing around with colors. She had brought her inner-most self into the outer world!

Let us not forget the most obvious value of art time, it’s fun! There’s no substitute for the big smiles and whispered comments I got every time the kids saw me rustling around in the supply cabinet. It made the time and energy totally worth it.

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