Among the many benefits of teaching the arts are increased self-confidence and self-understanding, improved communication skills, and improved cognition.
The arts are just as important as academics, and they should be treated as such in school. At New Mexico School for the Arts, we believe and practice this (NMSA). While the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement is worthwhile in and of itself, it is also only the tip of the iceberg when considering the entire child. Learning art goes beyond making students more successful. We believe it produces more successful people.
The foundation of NMSA is a dual arts and academic curriculum. Our teachers, students, and families all believe that both the arts and academics are important. Our goal is to prepare students for professional careers in the arts while also providing them with the skills and content knowledge required for college success. Here are five advantages of an arts education based on our personal experience (and research):
1. GROWTH MINDSET
Students gain skills such as resilience, grit, and a growth mindset through the arts, which will help them master their craft, perform well academically, and succeed in life after high school. (For more information, see Embracing Failure: Developing a Growth Mindset Through the Arts and Mastering Self-Assessment: Deepening Independent Learning Through the Arts.) This progression should occur naturally, 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 correlation between the work done and the results, resulting in a much healthier and more sustainable learning environment.
For students to truly grow and progress, there must be a point where intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are balanced. In the early stages of learning an art form, students participate in the activity because it is enjoyable (intrinsic motivation). However, this motivation will only take them so far before their development begins to slow – or even stop. At this point, rely on extrinsic motivation to propel your students forward. This can take the form of auditions, tests, or other forms of evaluation. This type of engagement, like the impact of early intrinsic motivation, will help your students grow and progress. While both types of motivation are beneficial and productive, a combination of the two is the most effective. Your students will study or practice not only for the external rewards but also for the self-satisfaction or enjoyment it provides.
I had a student who would not speak enter my band program a few years ago. She would simply stare at me when I asked her a question. She enjoyed being in a band, but she refused to play. I was perplexed as to why she would choose to join an activity while refusing to participate in it. Slowly, with the help of her peers and myself, a wonderful young person emerged from her insecurities and began to play. And as she learned her instrument, I saw her develop not only into a confident young lady and accomplished musician but also into a student leader. She overcame her insecurities and found her voice and place in life through the act of making music.
3. IMPROVED COGNITION
Learning music improves “verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability, and executive functions” in children, according to research (Frontiers in Neuroscience). Students are drawn into an incredibly complex and multifaceted endeavor by immersing them in arts education, which combines many subject matters (such as mathematics, history, language, and science) while being uniquely tied to culture.
To play in tune, for example, a student must have a scientific understanding of sound waves and other musical acoustics principles. Similarly, in order to give an inspired performance of Shakespeare, a student must first understand the social, cultural, and historical events of the time. The arts are valuable not only as a stand-alone subject matter but also as a perfect link between all subject matters – as well as a great delivery system for these concepts. This can be seen in the relationship between drawing and geometry, or between meter and time signatures and mathematical concepts like fractions.
One could argue that communication is the single most important aspect of life. Communication is the foundation of our world. Studying the arts teaches students a wide range of communication skills. They must learn to communicate verbally, physically, and emotionally with their peers, conductor, and audience just by being in a music ensemble. Similarly, a cast member must communicate not only the spoken word to an audience but also the script’s more intangible underlying emotions. The arts are a form of expression that transforms thoughts and emotions into a one-of-a-kind form of communication – art itself.
5. DEEPENING CULTURAL AND SELF-UNDERSTANDING
While many people see the value of arts education in how it affects student learning, I believe that learning art is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. It is impossible to have a culture without art. Art is fundamental to our human identity. The greatest gift we can give students – and humanity – is an understanding, appreciation, and ability to create art, in my opinion.