There is plenty of research that supports the value of arts education and early exposure to arts and culture. There are schools that understand this and either integrate arts into STEM (STEAM), offer a stand-alone art or music class, or provide an opportunity to take an acting class (a course I believe should be required — especially today — to develop the crucial social and communication skills we need if we are to effectively adult). In this article when I use the word “art” I’m referring to music, visual art, performance, literature, design, film, photography, all forms and disciplines.

I’m fascinated by how people in different fields view the arts-related experiences they had as children. I have yet to speak to anyone who says, “Too bad I learned how to play the piano,” or “Bummer I was in that play in middle school,” or “Boy, did I hate drawing class.”

I was fortunate enough to attend a performing arts high school. My major was theatre, which meant I got to spend a minimum of three hours a day (sometimes as many as eight or nine) doing something related to my focus area. About 100 students graduated with me from across six artistic disciplines (art, dance, vocal, instrumental, media, theatre). Quite a few pursued art as a career but I’ve asked classmates who didn’t how they felt their early arts exposure, experiences, and/or high school training impacted their lives. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Most mention the discipline and appreciation for hard work they developed practicing their art and witnessing similar behavior in those around them.
  • Dancers noted an increased awareness and understanding of space and acuity for moving within their surroundings.
  • There was a recurring theme about the sense of courage art teaches us to find and draw upon within oneself.
  • Some note how involvement in theatrical productions develops above average project management skills.
  • Live theatre means just about everyone involved in the production of a play — both onstage and off — has been required to think quickly to solve an unexpected emergency (theatre kids form an early appreciation for duct tape).
  • Theatre production reinforces the concepts of teamwork and collaboration: each role contributes to the whole — actors may want the limelight, but if the tech person turns off the follow spot they’re in the dark.
  • Art teaches endless possibility, the understanding that there are many options in any situation.
  • The imagery created by various artforms instills an appreciation for composition and the ability to see the world as a series of beautiful still images.
  • Another common theme: diversity — the arts help us recognize and appreciate the unlimited variety that exists and the value of each unique combination.
  • Understanding the practice of art and the various steps in each process teaches us sympathy and compassion.

A few career-specific examples:

  • Theatre majors who became lawyers view their acting education as a huge advantage in their field
  • Professors felt acting classes helped them excel at communicating ideas and giving powerful lectures to hundreds of students
  • A realtor was able to grow her business easily because she could draw upon her listening skills and was so comfortable engaging with others
  • Several became entrepreneurs, creating businesses that drew upon their artistic skills (graphic designers, architects, gallery owners)
  • Many became engineers, product designers, and developers, and each felt the arts gave them an improved ability to problem-solve and synthesize information
  • Many classmates support our communities by working as teachers, nonprofit leaders, or in state or local government

Not surprisingly, in all cases, adults who received art training, experiences, and/or education during their childhood attribute at least a part of their personal satisfaction and/or professional success to their understanding of and appreciation for the arts. Our exposure to and integration in the arts equipped us with a variety of tools that allowed us to become people who could “think outside the box.”

Starting arts education and enrichment in elementary school (or younger) is important because children are curious and open to engaging with their imagination, a key to creativity. By giving them access to different kinds of music, art, dance, stories from across all artistic disciplines, children can begin to develop their own tastes and preferences as well as social and academic habits that they’ll likely carry into adulthood. They may also discover which forms of expression intrigue them to learn more. I believe children need to understand and experience all kinds of art in order to develop the critical and creative thinking skills they need in their toolbox as adults. The arts:

  • Challenge preconceived ideas by forcing us to view and approach the world from different perspectives
  • Encourage us to find our own voice and use it to express ourselves
  • Permit us to explore, to try, to fail, and to forge our own path
  • Value new ways of looking at ideas and solving problems
  • Embrace individuality
  • Empower us to view and synthesize information differently
  • Can change the world

Further reading: 

Originally posted on Creativity HQ

Can we nurture creativity?

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