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What Benefits Does an Arts Education Provide?

The Arts are valued and important to the educational well-being of our young people and our country. Arts education benefits both student and society. It benefits the student because it cultivates the whole child, gradually building many kinds of literacy while developing intuition, reasoning, imagination, and dexterity into unique forms of expression and communication. This process requires not merely an active mind but a trained one. Arts education also helps students by initiating them into a variety of ways of perceiving and thinking. Because so much of a child's education in the early years is devoted to acquiring the skills of language and mathematics, children gradually learn, unconsciously, that the "normal" way to think is linear and sequential, that the pathway to understanding moves from beginning to end, from cause to effect. In this dominant early mode, students soon learn to trust mainly those symbol systems, usually in the form of words, numbers, and abstract concepts, that separate the experiencing person from what that person experiences.

But the arts teach a different lesson. They sometimes travel along a road that moves in a direction similar to the one described above, but more often they start from a different place. The arts cultivate the direct experience of the senses; they trust the unmediated flash of insight as a legitimate source of knowledge. Their goal is to connect person and experience directly, to build the bridge between verbal and nonverbal, between the strictly logical and the emotional, the better to gain an understanding of the whole. Both approaches are powerful and both are necessary; to deny students either is to disable them.

An education in the arts also benefits society because students of the arts disciplines gain powerful tools for: understanding human experiences, both past and present; learning to adapt to and respect others' (often very different) ways of thinking, working, and expressing themselves; learning artistic modes of problem solving, which bring an array of expressive, analytical, and developmental tools to every human situation (this is why we speak, for example, of the "art" of teaching or the "art" of politics); understanding the influences of the arts, for example, in their power to create and reflect cultures, in the impact of design on virtually all we use in daily life, and in the interdependence of work in the arts with the broader worlds of ideas and action; - National Standards Arts Education

Making decisions in situations where there are no standard answers; analyzing nonverbal communication and making informed judgments about cultural products and issues; and communicating their thoughts and feelings in a variety of modes, giving them a vastly more powerful repertoire of self-expression.

In a world inundated with a bewildering array of messages and meanings, an arts education also helps young people explore, understand, accept, and use ambiguity and subjectivity. In art as in life, there is often no clear or "right" answer to questions that are nonetheless worth pursuing "Should tice trees in this painting be a little darker shade of green?"). At the same time, the arts bring excitement and exhilaration to the learning process. Study and competence reinforce each other; students become increasingly interested in learning, add new dimensions to what they already know, and enhance their expectations for learning even more. The joy of learning becomes real, tangible, powerful.

Perhaps most important, the arts have intrinsic value. They are worth learning for their own sake, providing benefits not available through any other means. To read Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy," for example, is to know one kind of beauty, yet to hear it sung by a great chorus as the majestic conclusion to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is to experience beauty of an entirely different kind, an experience that for many is sublime. Because these experiences open up this transcending dimension of reality, there can be no substitute for an education in the arts, which provides bridges to things we can scarcely describe, but respond to deeply. In the simplest terms, no education is complete without them.

The arts also make a contribution to education that reaches beyond their intrinsic value. Because each arts discipline appeals to different senses and expresses itself through different media, each adds a special richness to the learning environment. An education in the arts helps students learn to identify, appreciate, and participate in the traditional art forms of their own communities. As students imagine, create, and reflect, they are developing both the verbal and nonverbal abilities necessary for school progress. At the same time, the intellectual demands that the arts place on students help them develop problem-solving abilities and such powerful thinking skills as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating. Further, numerous studies point toward a consistent and positive correlation between a substantive education in the arts and student achievement in other subjects and on standardized tests. A comprehensive, articulated arts education program also engages students in a process that helps them develop the self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperation, and self-motivation necessary for success in life.

- National Standards For Arts Education

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