Recently I finished an online class using Eric Jensen's book, Arts With the Brain in Mind, as the text. The next series of blogs will focus on things learned from the reading of this book and offer up some of my thoughts and attitudes towards the arts in general. I will briefly look at some of the important research information that I have discovered, share insights gained, and encourage anyone reading this blog to buy this book and read it for yourselves. After you finish it, hand it over to your principal to read it. That's what I did. I'll let you know if she read it and if something positive comes from her reading of the book.
As those in the arts know only too well, when there are budget cuts to be made, the arts are often the first to suffer. This is often the case even though it's a fact that there are many benefits to individuals that engage in the arts.
The greatest benefit we can get from the arts is the ability to connect to an inner part of ourselves. Through the arts, we can express that inner part of ourselves in a way that no other discipline can bring out. For me, the guitar has been a life-long friend. I love it's sweet tones and as I play and listen to its sounds I realize, "Hey, I'm doing that!" But it's more than that; it's a way for me to express something that words cannot say.
The arts give us all a pathway to explore our inner selves and to exercise our creativity. This is true of all the art forms. The visual arts has taught me a lot about myself. Ten years ago, I was asked to develop an art program for our school (because I was thought to the the creative/artsy one). I began to discover a part of my self that I didn't realize was there. I discovered an artist within. And for the past ten years I've studied drawing techniques and in the past two years explored pottery and painting. It's been a ten year love affair.
Perhaps the best way to explain how I feel toward art was expressed by one of my 5th grade students. She wrote the following on a paper towel (I guess she couldn't find any paper). I still have it today.
On one side are a bunch of dots arranged to spell - something. But she couldn't read it after she finished, so wrote in parentheses (iT sed to mr.t) Below that she writes "Art is cool."
The other side contains what I consider a treasure:
(I will spell it the way she wrote it)
Art is fun.
Art is cool.
Are is on the populer list.
Art is a good thing to do when you a(re) mad.
Art is enteresting. (interesting)
Art can tell whut you are feelings in side.
Art can be sad sum times.
The research clearly shows that engaging in the arts helps develop the brain. More on this later. In addition to developing the brain, art can help develop the whole person. When we engage in the arts, personal expression becomes part of our daily experience. We all want to find out "who we are" and the arts can help us make important connections both to ourselves, and the world.
I have personally benefited from a lifetime of the arts. I've been an active musician all my life. I took piano lessons as a child, played clarinet all my life and took up the guitar when I was 17. I'm mostly self-taught. I've been in many bands, given and taken guitar lessons and still study and learn. There's always something new to learn about guitar playing specifically and music in general. The same has become true of the visual arts. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Drawing gives me a great deal of pleasure and is perhaps my favorite visual art expression. When I share my knowledge with my students, I often hear "ohhs" and "ahhhs" as something clicks with them. I try to bring them to discover that they can draw too.
I've seen some of the most academic challenged students flourish in my art class. They are free to express themselves in non-critical ways. Some students excel in math, others in science, still others in sports or writing. But everyone can be successful, at some level, in the visual arts. Whether painting or drawing or creating with clay, we can all experience art and enjoy it no matter our level of skill. And as we experience the joy of creating, experimenting, and expressing through the arts, we learn and grow and develop our character. The arts truly can bring us benefits that stay with us for a lifetime.