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The importance of art in education

girls in art class

What is art ?

The concept of art encompasses all creations made by humans to express a sensitive vision about the world, whether real or imaginary. Art allows us to express ideas, emotions, perceptions and sensations.

It can be classified into : architecture , dance , sculpture , music , paintingpoetry ( literature ),cinemaphotography and comic

 

Why is art important in education ?

Art is important  in education because studies that have analyzed the implementation of artistic education in the classroom have revealed that the most potent effects are found in those programs that are fully integrated into the subjects of the curriculum and that when this occurs, multiple benefits related to learning students and their behavior. Rabkin and Redmond (2004) have identified the most significant reasons why it is important:

  • There is a greater emotional commitment of the students in the classroom.
  • Students work more actively and learn from each other.
  • Cooperative learning groups turn classes into learning communities.
  • Learning is facilitated in all subjects through the arts.
  • Teachers collaborate more and have higher expectations about their students.
  • The curriculum becomes more real by relying on project learning.
  • The evaluation is more reflexive and varied.
  • Families get more involved.

We will now elaborate on some of the reasons

1. Art reduces stress

Studies have shown that art helps to reduce the stress of academics . Academic stress is the normal reaction we have to face the various demands we face at the University, such as tests, exams, papers, presentations, etc. This reaction activates and mobilizes us to respond effectively and achieve our goals and objectives. However, sometimes we may have too many demands at the same time, which can sharpen the response and decrease our performance.

Art is good, it reduces stress. Science says so, with an unprecedented test conducted before one of the wonders of the world: the world’s largest elliptical dome , in the Vicoforte sanctuary , dedicated to the Nativity of Mary, in the province of Cuneo, region of the Piedmont

The experiment consisted of bringing up 99 people, between the ages of 19 and 81, at 63 meters high to see the dome up close. Before going up and after going down, nurses took a saliva sample and confronted it with the level of cortisol that these people had, before and after the visit (cortisol is considered the stress hormone , since it is manufactured by the body in situations emergency or delicate, helping to face and overcome problems).

The study was carried out by Enzo Grossi, professor of Quality of life and health promotion at the University of Bologna, whose course is frequented by doctors, sociologists and cultural operators. Professor Grossi explained that the test results are surprising: “During the visit, cortisol dropped by 60%, and the participants demonstrated, in 90% of the cases, feeling much better after the visit.” The experience has been told by a journalist from the newspaper “La Repubblica”, which has made a guinea pig: “Up there, near an eighteenth-century fresco of six thousand square meters representing the glorification of Mary, I felt very near the idea of paradise that belongs to the collective imaginary. And consequently my saliva has decreed that yes: Beauty, art, culture put into action the mechanism of well-being . 

In another small study done by University of Washington they seek to use art to reduce stress related headaches  . Eight girls between the ages of 14 to 17 were recruited from a high school in Seattle. At the end of the twice a week art therapy, students saw a 40% decline in headaches .

 

2. Art improves students attention and concentration

Today’s children are constantly surrounded by stimuli and information that make attention and concentration difficult. Usually, the stimuli that attract the most attention are those that have nothing to do with school. So, we have to get students to feel interested in academic content. Studies have shown that art can improve their attention . You can read The Effect of Art Education on the Selective Attention Skills and Development of Preschoolers at 4 – 5 Years

 

3. Art improves memory

In a study with fifth grade students (10-11 years), didactic units related to scientific subjects (astronomy and ecology) were designed following two different procedures: in one the traditional approach was used and in the other the arts were integrated into the unit . Thus, for example, in the second case, the students carried out activities with defined didactic objectives that included theatrical performances, poster drawings, recreation of movements or use of music. The analysis of the results revealed that the students who participated in the teaching unit in which the artistic activities were integrated improved the so-called long-term memory, especially students with reading difficulties (Hardiman et al., 2014).

4. Improves social skills and positive emotions

In a longitudinal study that lasted three years, we wanted to analyze how the integration of different artistic programs affected the personal development of students aged between 9 and 15 who belonged to disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. In the first part of the program, students from the experimental group were allowed to choose between different artistic forms such as music, painting, video recording, screenwriting or mask design; in the second one he deepened more in the means chosen through cooperative work; and in the final stage in which all the students intervened a play was staged and a video about the school community itself was recorded. The three years of program application revealed that students improved their artistic and social skills.

Emotions are very important in education they are unconscious reactions that nature has devised to ensure survival and that, for our own benefit, we must learn to manage (not eradicate). Neuroscience has shown that emotions maintain curiosity, serve us to communicate and are essential in the processes of reasoning and decision making, that is, emotional and cognitive processes are inseparable (Damasio, 1994). In addition, positive emotions facilitate memory and learning (Erk, 2003; see figure 2), while in chronic stress the tonsil (one of the key brain regions of the limbic system or “emotional brain”) makes it difficult to pass information from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, the seat of executive functions.

If we understand education as a learning process for life, emotional education is essential because it contributes to personal and social well-being.

Botín Foundation Report (2008): Emotional and social education. International Analysis Santander, Marcelino Botín Foundation.

In this international study based on hundreds of investigations in which more than 500,000 students of pre-school, primary and secondary education have participated, it has been shown that systematic emotional education programs affect the integral development of students: discipline problems are reduced, they are more motivated to study, get better academic results, show more positive attitudes and improve their relationships.

5. Develops creativity

The arts teach children that real problems usually have more than one possible solution, that it is necessary to analyze tasks from different perspectives, that imagination is a powerful guide in resolution processes or that there are not always defined rules when they have to make decisions (Eisner, 2004).

When artistic disciplines are integrated into pedagogical practices, creative and divergent thinking is promoted in students and not only that, but they also develop deeper thinking. An example of the latter could be found in the Artful Thinking program  developed by the Harvard Zero Project that used the power of visual images , such as works of art, to stimulate in students processes such as curiosity, observation, comparison or relationship between essential ideas for the development of creative thinking and learning (Hardiman, 2012).

 

6. Art improves cognition

Neuroscience is showing that artistic activities (involving different brain regions; see figure below), particularly musical, promote the development of cognitive processes.

Musical instruction in young people improves intellectual capacity as a result of brain plasticity, especially in those with greater interest and motivation towards artistic activities (Posner, 2008). In addition, in some children, correlations appear between musical practice and improvement in geometry or spatial abilities when the training is intense. On the other hand, theater or dance develop socio-emotional skills such as empathy and are beneficial for semantic memory. For example, when speaking in public, norepinephrine is generated, a substance that is known to be involved in processes related to attention, working memory or self-control.

Wandell, B. et al. (2008): “Training in the arts, reading and brain imaging” in “Learning, arts and the brain: the Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition”, Dana Press.

On the horizontal axis the hours dedicated to musical training appear the first year. The vertical axis shows the improvement in reading ability between the first year and the third year.

In a study with 49 children aged between 7 and 12 years the effects of artistic education (specifically visual arts, music, dance and theater) on reading ability and comprehension were measured. And it was found that the greatest correlation was given for musical training

Types of art and why they are important in education

  1. MUSIC

Music produces well being because it stimulates our brain reward system that releases dopamine and that makes us feel good. It is beneficial from the emotional perspective to listen to music, but from the cognitive perspective it is better to practice it. Thus, for example, the simultaneous activation of sensory and motor areas when playing a musical instrument entails the improvement of general abilities such as working memory or attention (Mora, 2013). However, there are many misunderstandings about it.

Does music make us smarter?

There are several studies that suggest that children who receive music education get better academic results. However, the existence of a correlation does not mean that there is a causality. The child can obtain these best results due to other factors related, for example, with their own abilities or with the family environment in which they develop.

When rigorous experimental designs are used in which there is a randomly assigned group of children who receive musical instruction and another control group that does not receive it, the results are different. And although it may seem surprising, there have been very few experiments of this type and with little illuminating results on the cognitive benefits that musical activity reports.

Elisabeth Spelke’s research group has analyzed these issues in a very recent investigation (Mehr et al., 2013). In one of the experiments, 29 four-year-old children were randomly assigned to 45-minute music or visual arts classes for six weeks. After that period of time a series of tests were performed and no differences were found in those that measured the linguistic and mathematical competence of the children of both groups and a very small difference in the spatial tests. In response to the previous experiment, the researchers designed a similar one in which 45 children now participated who were assigned to the experimental group that received the music classes or to a control group that did not receive any type of instruction.

Does this mean that musical instruction does not produce cognitive benefits? Obviously not. On the one hand, more studies are needed to complement this research, and on the other, this study did not measure the general intelligence of children as others did, but rather aimed at analyzing specific areas such as mathematics. The truth is that, as Elizabeth Spelke herself states , the debate about the importance of music education in particular, or art in general, should not focus on external benefits (such as the mathematical improvement that is questioned in the study commented on) but in the inherent benefits of art such as those related to emotional or social issues. And those do not require any empirical demonstration.

In 1993, an article appeared in the journal Nature that reported a temporary improvement in spatial reasoning in adults when listening to Mozart for 10-15 minutes (Rauscher et al., 1993). This finding was totally distorted by the media, believing that early exposure of children to classical music would improve their intellectual quotient. The truth is that this has never been proven and the so-called “Mozart effect” must be considered a neuromite.

2. VISUAL ARTS

The human brain has developed an extraordinary capacity to create internal mental images and even, it has been demonstrated in studies with neuroimaging that the same brain regions are activated when seeing a real scene than when imagining it (Thompson et al., 2009). This is very interesting, because visualization is a powerful tool in memorization processes.

What can a drawing classes contribute?

If we asked the students what they learned in the visual arts classes, most of them would probably answer that they learned to draw, paint or represent a graphic. It is logical that in art classes the corresponding artistic techniques are learned, however, many more things can be learned. Winner and his collaborators (2006) have identified eight provisions (mental routines) that students can develop in visual arts classes and that can be transferred to other learning domains:

  • Use of tools and materials: students learn the techniques of the discipline using, for example, brushes and pencils or paint and clay.
  • Participation and perseverance: students learn to commit to the subject through the projects carried out.
  • Imagination: students learn to visualize and imagine situations that move away from mere observation.
  • Expression: students learn to convey a personal vision in their work.
  • Observation: students learn to use their own eyes and perceive less obvious details.
  • Reflection: students learn to explain, justify and evaluate what they do in a critical spirit.
  • Exploration: students learn to go beyond their creations, to take new risks and to learn from their mistakes.
  • Understanding the artistic world: students learn to relate to art and understand everything associated with it such as galleries, museums, etc.

3. SCENIC ARTS

Paradoxically, school activities that involve movement, be they artistic as any dance or theater style or sports as in the case of Physical Education, are being reduced. However, neuroscience research is demonstrating its importance at all levels, including cognitive. For example, dance is a great way to develop three aspects of creative thinking: fluidity, originality and the ability to abstract (Bradley, 2002). On the other hand, today we know that the same neural circuits that are activated when performing an action also do so when observing another person doing it. These mirror neurons enable imitation, a powerful way of learning.

Is it worth pointing my son to the theater?

In an investigation in which Catterall (2002) analyzed the studies carried out on the effects of theater in school environments, he identified many benefits, some of them directly related to curricular subjects and others, which are the most important, with the integral development of the own person The most representative are the following:

  • Turn abstract concepts into concrete concepts.
  • Address curriculum content from a more attractive perspective.
  • Improve your vocabulary.
  • Bring learning to the real world.
  • It allows students to reflect on what they do and compare their opinions with those of others.
  • Promotes tolerance and respect for others.
  • It improves your self-control and self-esteem.
  • It provides a feeling of freedom accompanied by responsibility.

In my particular case, I can assure you that some of the greatest satisfactions in my teaching experience come from having verified as students with learning difficulties or to interact with classmates they acquired a whole series of interpersonal skills through the theater that made them better students and especially happier people.

IN PRACTICE

We have already talked about the relevance of the arts as such, but the most important thing is to integrate artistic activities in each of the different curricular subjects assuming a transdisciplinary perspective. It will be a creative act (we cannot ask our students to be creative if we are not) that will arouse the student’s curiosity. And as we have commented so many times, this emotional charge will facilitate attention and with it learning. When we are motivated, everything is easier.

Let’s look at some concrete examples (more information in Sousa, 2011):

  • Visual arts . The chemistry teacher asks his students to draw a graphic organizer in which the most important phases of an experiment are shown.
  • Music . The history teacher asks his students to reflect in the lyrics of a popular melody the most significant events of the French Revolution.
  • Poetry . The math teacher asks his students to write a stanza of a poem about the steps to follow when solving a mathematical equation.
  • Theater . The English teacher asks his students to write an alternative ending of the play Romeo and Juliet and make a theatrical recreation of it.

And we can follow everything our imagination allows us. We can find examples in any subject and at any educational stage.

On the other hand, in the case of specific artistic curricula, we have already commented that project-based learning is a very good option because it encourages more cooperative work, reflection or self-evaluation than traditional approaches, also generating greater intrinsic motivation in student.

CONCLUSIONS

It cannot be denied that artistic activities are rooted in the development of the human being since birth and that they constitute a natural brain reward necessary for learning. Because the practice of any of the artistic manifestations is associated with an emotional component that motivates us and allows us to contemplate the world around us from a different, more aesthetic, deeper perspective. Artistic Education is important because it allows students to acquire a series of basic socio-emotional skills for their personal development and, in addition, make them happier. And that is true learning, which prepares them for life. The human brain, which is a complex organ in continuous restructuring, appreciates the challenges and needs art.

 

Bibliographic references:

  1. Bradley K. (2002): “Informing and reforming dance education research.” In Deasy R. (Ed.), Critical links: learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Arts Education Partnership.
  2. Catterall J. (2002): “Research on drama and theater in education.” In Deasy R. (Ed.), Critical links: learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Arts Education Partnership.
  3. Eisner, Eliot W. (2004). Art and the creation of the mind: The role of visual arts in the transformation of consciousness . Paidós
  4. Hardiman, Mariale (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model for 21 st-century schools . Corwin
  5. Hardiman M. et al. (2014): “The effects of arts integration on long-term retention of academic content”. Mind, Brain and Education, 8 (3), 144-148.
  6. Mehr SA. Et al. (2013): “Two randomized trials provide no consistent evidence for nonmusical cognitive benefits of brief preschool music enrichment.” PLoS ONE 8 (12).
  7. Mora, Francisco (2013). Neuroeducation: you can only learn what you love. Editorial Alliance.
  8. Posner, M. et al. (2008): “How arts training influences cognition”, in Learning, arts and the brain: the Dana Consortium on arts and cognition , Danna Press.
  9. Rabkin N. and Redmond R. (2004). Putting the arts in the picture: reforming education in the 21st century. Columbia College
  10. Rauscher et al. (1993): “Music and spatial task performance”. Nature, Oct. 14.
  11. Sousa, David A. (2011). How the brain learns. Corwin
  12. Thomson W. et al. (2009): “Two forms of spatial imagery: neuroimaging evidence”. Psychological Science, 20.
  13. Winner E. et al. (2006): “Studio thinking: how visual arts teaching can promote disciplined habits of mind”. In Locher P. et al. (Eds), New directions in Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts . Baywood
  14. Wright R. (2006): “Effect of a structured performing arts program on the psychosocial functioning of low-income youth: findings from a Canadian longitudinal study.”. Journal of Early Adolescence, 26.

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