Creativity and Academics: The Power of an Arts Education
The arts are just as important as academics, and they should be treated as such in school curricula, according to the authors. At the New Mexico School for the Arts, this is what we believe and what we practise (NMSA). As important as it is to recognise and celebrate the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement in and of itself, this is only the beginning of what can be achieved when considering the whole child. Learning art has benefits that go beyond making students more successful. We believe that it leads to the development of more successful human beings.
The New Mexico School of the Arts is based on a dual arts and academic curriculum. Teachers, students, and families at our school are united in their belief that the arts and academics are both equally important. Our goal is to prepare students for professional careers in the arts, while also equipping them with the skills and content knowledge necessary to succeed in college. According to our personal experience (and research), the following are five advantages of a liberal arts education:
1. Growth Mindset
Students learn skills such as resilience, grit, and a growth mindset through the arts, which will help them master their craft, perform well academically, and be successful in life after high school, among other things. The arts can be used to foster a growth mindset in students (see Embracing Failure: Building a Growth Mindset Through the Arts and Mastering Self-Assessment: Deepening Independent Learning Through the Arts). In an ideal situation, this progression will occur on its own, but it is frequently aided by the teacher. Students can begin to shift their motivation by setting clear expectations and goals for them and then drawing the connection between the work done and the results. As a result, a much healthier and more sustainable learning environment is created.
When intrinsic motivation is in balance with extrinsic motivation, students can make significant strides forward and achieve their full potential. Students participate in an activity because it is enjoyable in the early stages of learning an art form, such as drawing or painting (intrinsic motivation). However, this drive will only take them so far before their development begins to slow — or even come to a complete standstill. At this point, you should rely on extrinsic motivation to ensure that your students’ development continues. A variety of methods can be used to accomplish this including auditions, tests, and other forms of evaluation. This type of engagement, similar to the impact of early intrinsic motivation, will assist your students in growing and progressing. While both types of motivation can be beneficial and productive, a combination of the two is the most effective combination. It is not only for the external rewards that your students will study or practise; it is also for the enjoyment and satisfaction that they will receive from doing so.
Several years ago, I had a student enrol in my band programme who was unable to communicate verbally. When she was asked a question, she would simply look at me with her eyes. She adored being in a band, but she refused to participate. I was perplexed as to why she would choose to participate in an activity while refusing to participate in the activity. Slowly, with the help of her peers and myself, a wonderful young person was able to emerge from beneath her insecurities and begin to play. And as she progressed through her instrument-learning process, I witnessed her blossom into not only a self-assured young lady but also a talented musician who was also a student leader. She overcame her insecurities and discovered her voice and place in the world as a result of her musical endeavours.
3. Improved Cognition
Learning music is associated with improved “verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability, and executive functions” in children and adolescents, according to research (Frontiers in Neuroscience). Students are drawn into an incredibly complex and multifaceted endeavour when they are immersed in arts education. Arts education combines many subject areas (such as mathematics, history, language, and science) while being uniquely tied to culture, and it is incredibly difficult to master.
Consider the fact that for a student to play in tune, he or she must possess a scientific understanding of sound waves and other principles of musical acoustics. In the same way, for a student to give an inspired performance of Shakespeare, she must be aware of the social, cultural, and historical events that occurred at the time. It is important to recognise that the arts are valuable not only as stand-alone subject matter but also as the ideal link between all subject matters — and as a fantastic delivery system for these concepts. This can be seen in the relationship between drawing and geometry, or in the relationship between metre and time signatures and mathematical concepts such as fractions and decimals.
It is possible to argue that communication is the most important aspect of existence, if not the most important aspect of existence. Communication is essential in the construction of our world. By studying the arts, students can develop a wide range of communication abilities. They must learn to communicate with their peers, conductor, and audience through the very process of being a member of a music ensemble. They must learn to communicate verbally, physically, and emotionally. In the same way, a cast member must not only convey the spoken word to an audience, but also the more intangible underlying emotions of the script to the audience. Thoughts and emotions are transformed into a unique form of communication through the arts, which is called art itself.
5. Deepening Cultural and Self-Understanding
While many people believe that the value of arts education lies in how it impacts student learning, I believe that learning about art is a worthwhile endeavour in and of itself. It is impossible to have a culture without art. Art is at the very heart of our sense of self as human beings. In my opinion, the most important gift we can give students — and indeed, the entire world — is an understanding of, appreciation for, and ability to create art.