What is art education and why is it important?


Quick Links:

Portfolio Page: Eric Rodrigues' Portfolio Page

Mini Course Homepage: Understanding & Increasing Visual Art Engagement

Module 1: Current Page

Module 2: Building Trust & Confidence

Module 3: Incorporating Art Across the Curriculum

In this module you will:

  • reflect upon possible biases based on past experiences
  • reflect on your prior knowledge and experiences of art education
  • learn how art education affects student test scores
  • explore how art education affects students socially, emotionally and creatively

Pre-Lesson Reflection:

In this course, we will use reflection as a method of processing your learning. You may use a physical journal, or a computer document to record your thoughts. In later modules, we will share some ideas through a shared google slideshow. Because this course is expected to be taken by both art educators and teachers of other disciplines, we all must understand current biases of what art education is.

Please view the image below and take note of how many triangles you see:

Please write how many triangles you see in your journal.

The image is an example of Gestalt’s theory of perspective - specifically “closure”. Many people may report that they see between 1-8 triangles in the image above.

Our minds automatically fill in the blanks and we are able to see completed triangles or assume they are there. In reality there are three pac-man shapes and three “v’s” in the image. There are no triangles. This is a very automatic process and we do this unconsciously on a daily basis. My point being that we may hold biases where our minds automatically fill in the blanks based off of past experiences. This can happen with any subject/topic, but I ask that you try to be conscious of “what is” and question your experience to understand our biases.

Take a moment to consider the questions below. You may bullet your answers or write in complete sentences.

  • Is art education necessary?
  • Did you receive art education in your k-12 experience?
  • Do you have a positive, negative or neutral stance on art education being important? Why do you think this way? Think of specific instances.
  • Do you believe art education was/is important to you or to others around you?
  • Did art engage you in elementary, middle and high school? Why do you think this? (Again consider specific instances of your experience)

The point of these questions above is to identify and question our thoughts and personal biases. Perhaps another art teacher is reading this, I would predict they will have a positive experience with art, but do they (or you) have biases that made you think a specific way?  Perhaps you don’t enjoy art very much and you did not like your teacher or curriculum when you went through school. I hope to challenge your thoughts (positive, negative or neutral) throughout this mini course in order to establish a common understanding of art education.  I will also actively challenge my own thoughts and biases alongside you.

What is Art Education?

“Art education refers to learning, instruction and programming based upon the visual and tangible arts. Art education includes performing arts like dance, music, theater, and visual arts like drawing, painting, sculpture, and design works. Design works include design in jewelry, pottery, weaving and fabrics. The curriculum can include commercial graphics and home furnishings also. Latest trends also include photography, video, film, design and computer. In art education, instruction is through standards-based, sequential approach by a qualified instructor as part of the core curriculum.”

Image from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/art-teaching-for-a-new-age/

Definition of Art Education from: https://definitions.uslegal.com/a/art-education/

Art education has many definitions and aspects to it. I believe the definition above is valuable because it shows a glimpse of how broad it can be and lists many areas it encompasses. Art education envelopes not only the visual arts, but music, design, theater, technology, architecture, videography, and much more. Not every school is going to be able to offer extensive programs outlining each aspect, so for this course, I am going to be focusing on visual arts.

Did you know?

Stepping away from "No Child Left Behind, now under the "Every Student Succeeds Act" (ESSA), art is listed alongside math, reading, and other subjects as a part of a "Well Rounded Education." (Gidcumb, 2020)

Why is art education important?

There are learning gaps between where a student is supposed to be and where they actually are. Academic learning gaps are often found largely between students of varying cultures and races. One of the solutions that Dr. Hammond (2015) has found that helps close this learning gap is to utilize culturally responsive teaching.  She has found that students that are not white and do not speak English oftentimes fall into a “dependent learner” category.  Dr. Hammond outlines the different characteristics  between dependent and independent learners in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2022-11-13 at 1.33.40 PM.png

(Hammond, 2015, p. 33)

Does it surprise you to find that students of lower socioeconomic status and non-white students are more likely to be dependent learners? (Hammond, 2015, p.13)

Culturally responsive teaching can aid these students in catching up to grade level goals. It allows students to connect to their own past experiences by scaffolding their outside knowledge that they already developed schema for and applying this information to new concepts taught in the curriculum. Now what does this have to do with art education? While being culturally responsive is not something reserved only for the art classroom, it can be a great way to engage your learners while bridging the learning gap.

Often, if not always, art education is based on master artists and their respective time periods. These master artists come from varying places of origin and eras. During my first year of teaching, I taught in a disadvantaged district with many students having a hispanic background. Many of my students were struggling with understanding the content and were actively learning English. Because of such a large learning gap between my students, I took into account their culture to scaffold my lessons on. I was able to see students light up sharing their experiences about Dia de los Muertos and learning about how the Mexican Flag has Aztec symbols on it. The students were able to understand these beginner lessons, compounding it with their personal knowledge, giving them a basis for me to create more advanced lessons after a starting point was established. I provided options for students to work in groups as I understood how group work might be more appealing for dependent learners.

Here are some official statistics of how the presence of art education benefits students of low socioeconomic status:

  • “high participation in the arts have a drop- out rate of 4 percent, but their peers with a low participation in the arts have a dropout rate of 22 percent.”

When there is high art education involvement in a well developed program:

  • Students are 4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
  • Students are 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
  • Students are 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
  • Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education.
Screen Shot 2022-11-05 at 5.21.19 PM.png

Arts advocacy - SAYGRID: Andee Mazzocco. SAYGRID. (2015). From https://saygrid.com/arts-advocacy

What if the majority of your students are not from low socioeconomic status?

Here are some benefits of art education that can affect all students according to Walden University (2021).

Improved Tolerance and Empathy

Art education exposes students to viewpoints outside of their own. Students learn and reflect on artists new and old in conjunction to experiencing different cultures. They are able to see how world events often overlap with how an artist develops their craft and why decisions may be made based on the world around them. Students will be able to reflect on how artists of different cultures adapt or break cultural norms.

Improved Resiliency

“Producing art, rather than simply experiencing it, may also benefit students. As a recent study found, visual arts production can actually change the wiring of the brain, improving areas that help us manage stress. In the study, adults who produced art showed improved psychological resilience, a benefit that will likely help them better cope with future stress” (Walden University, 2021).

Hammond (2015) describes how the more we revisit and experience topics in varying perspectives, the stronger the neural connections we are able to create (which is necessary to revisit the information in an efficient manner and accurate manner). Hammond compares neural connections to a “well worn path” (Hammond, 2015, p. 187) if we visit the information enough times to move it from our working memory to long term memory. If the information is not visited often, the "path" will slowly fill up with imaginary weeds that make it more difficult to retrieve. Creating through art education adds an additional experience that can help move working memory into long term memory.

Here are some skills art education can help students develop in the 21st century. Are there any skills that you think your students could benefit from that they are lacking right now? Do any of these skills surprise you about incorporating art education into the curriculum?

Things to consider:

Now that we have learned about some of the effects of art education, reflect on what you have learned so far. Consider the following questions:

  • Was there anything that surprised you about this unit?
  • Do you disagree with anything in this unit and why?
  • What are three benefits to incorporating art education into the classroom?
  • Do you have any concerns for incorporating art education into your classroom?
  • What do you believe is the hardest part of incorporating art education into your classroom?
  • Are there any downfalls to incorporating art education into your classroom?

Quick Links:

Portfolio Page: Eric Rodrigues' Portfolio Page

Mini Course Homepage: Understanding & Increasing Visual Art Engagement

Module 1: Current Page

Module 2: Building Trust & Confidence

Module 3: Incorporating Art Across the Curriculum


Arts advocacy - SAYGRID: Andee Mazzocco. SAYGRID. (2015). Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://saygrid.com/arts-advocacy  

Definition of Art Education: https://definitions.uslegal.com/a/art-education/

Gestalt Image: https://www.ryanh.com/design/https/wwwryanhcom/thoughts/the-7-gestalt-principles-of-visual-perception-part-two

Gidcumb, B. (2020, April 2). Unpacking essa. The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. Retrieved from https://artsintegration.com/2015/12/18/unpacking-essa/

Walden University. (2021, March 25). Does-art-boost-a-students-critical-thinking. Walden University. Retrieved from https://www.waldenu.edu/online-masters-programs/ms-in-education/resource/does-art-boost-a-students-critical-thinking