Our school is sorely lacking in the area of art education. I say that without shame or guilt because I would guess that 90% of our schools are suffering from the same fate. As we require more and more from our students in the areas of language and math something has to go. There are only so many dollars in the budget, so many teachers on staff, and so many hours in the day. And it is a fact of life that most administrators, teachers, and even parents, don’t envision the average student going on to a career in painting. Even though less than 2% of college football players go on to an NFL career, we pin our hopes on sports rather than the arts.
However, I would like to remind everyone that education is more than just preparation for employment- at least that was the original intention. In the “olden days” when I was a child education was supposed to make us “well-rounded informed citizens” and prepare us for life. Part of that life was to include hobbies, avocations, and interests that would contribute to the culture of our nation, not just the economy. Now it seems that “career prep” is the major focus of education. And we can see by the unemployment rate how well that has turned out in the past!
Last week a simple project in my kindergarten class reminded me of how much information I glean about my students from how they approach and complete an art project. And yesterday we went through the same process with a new project. Essentially had the same responses from the same children! That has to mean something. If a child consistently has difficulty with directions, even though they are given verbally and visually, something is amiss. If a child always places things upside down or in illogical positions I pay attention. Can he see and hear clearly? Does he process information correctly? If a child insists on coloring everything red I question why, because I once had a child who watched violent movies at home and equated red with the blood in the movies. Another child colored things odd colors because he was color blind.
And of course it is immediately apparent that some children have better developed fine motor skills than their peers. Some have more creativity. Some have a desire to do art, while others avoid it. Everything works together to give me a better understanding each child’s strengths and weaknesses.
I studied art in college. I’ve researched art therapy. I’ve dabbled in painting and observed the techniques of others. I’ve worked with children in one capacity or another for over forty years. I hope that in our race toward higher expectations for reading, writing, and arithmetic we don’t overlook the value of drawing, painting, and other creative endeavors.