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An Art Curriculum for Life

Posted by Betty O'Regan on December 22, 2015 at 3:00 PM
Betty O'Regan

If you ask young children what they want to be when they grow up, the most popular career choices are artists or athletes...and an occasional paleontologist. No matter where their dreams take them, though, they will rely on the skills, behaviors, and qualities that develop during a high-quality art education experience.

Sometimes these are areas that aren’t stressed in any other part of their education; sometimes they reinforce practices students are learning in their academic subjects. Some of these artistic behaviors include:bettysblog.jpg

  • Problem-finding (research, visualize possibilities, think divergently)
  • Problem-solving (revise, refine, reinvent, infer and understand)
  • Experimenting (improvise, explore media, innovate)
  • Developing an array of work habits (plan, persevere, engage, set goals, organize, discuss, take risks, practice, rework mistakes)

The process of devising, creating, and revising art allows students the chance to practice these skills creatively. These skills are so valued by today’s employers, that some of the nation’s top business schools are offering courses that deliberately foster students’ critical thinking and creativity in order to cultivate fresh approaches to identifying problems and developing solutions.

How exactly does a good art curriculum help? Stanford researcher Elliot Eisner’s exploration of the value of the visual arts explains it best in his 10 Lessons the Arts Teach.

 "The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem-solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity." 

At its essence, Eisner finds that a thoughtful, quality art curriculum leads students to get comfortable with new experiences, see the world in a new way, value multiple perspectives, and use their developing world view and tool kit of resources to approach new challenges in creative ways.

As a 40-year veteran of art education, I have seen students get stumped or become distraught when his or her project gets "messed up." I call them happy accidents. Author Barney Saltzberg calls them “Beautiful Oops” in this video:

At Sanford School, we celebrate these happy accidents, because they inevitably propel us forward to another way of solving a problem. The skills learned in the art classroom are becoming increasingly valued as we understand the link between visual arts and important skills that will help all future artists, athletes, and even paleontologists live fulfilling, productive lives.

Betty O’Regan, Chair of the Visual Arts Department at Sanford School in Hockessin, DE, has been an art educator for more than 40 years and has been active in the Delaware Art Education Association. Accolades for her work include having been named Delaware’s Art Educator of the Year in 2003.

Topics: Arts

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