By Jessica Sanborn
Gustav Klimt said, “Art is a line around your thoughts.” Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter, although highly trained academically, who founded the Vienna Secession — a movement that sought unconventional artists to bridge the gap between classical knowledge and the eclectic artistic styles at the turn of the 20th century. He is one of the most influential artists of Art Nouveau, a period that affected not only Austria, but all of Europe during a golden age of art, music and literature. Although Klimt died about two decades into his career, his productive oeuvre fused artistic styles, mediums, techniques and ideas that transformed the art world. Klimt was controversial during his time but today his works are some of the most valuable and reproduced images in the world. Research in Arts Education today supports Klimt’s claim. Art is a line around our thoughts, and it can be used to connect academic teaching with tools that improve academic performance, promote positive values and self esteem, and bridge the “learning field”. Art has been shown to increase test scores across every subject area, lower drop out rates and close the achievement gap regardless of socio-economic status.
Multiple studies have shown that Arts Education has significant effects on other disciplines and has been shown to improve academic performance. In a national sample of 25,000 students, students “with high levels of arts-learning experiences” earned higher grades and scored better on standardized tests than those with little or no involvement in the arts. Another study found that students consistently involved in Theater and Music show higher levels of success in Math and Reading. This correlation is evident worldwide. In fact, Arts and Music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for Math and Science test scores, like Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands.
But the connection between Arts Education and performance goes beyond test scores. Arts Education affects the way we see others and ourselves. New brain research shows that, not only does Music improve skills in Math and Reading, but it promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth. The benefits of Arts Education include increased awareness of self (mind, body, and voice) and others (collaboration and empathy), improved clarity and creativity in communication of verbal and nonverbal ideas, and a deeper understanding of human behavior, motivation, diversity, culture and history. Furthermore, it promotes positive values for our youth. It has been shown to have immeasurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems, increasing overall academic performance among those youth engaged in after school and summer arts programs targeted toward delinquency prevention. A study by Stanford University and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching found that young people who participate in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools, four times more likely to participate in a Math or Science fair, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, participate in youth groups four times as frequently, read for pleasure twice as often, and perform community service more than four times as often.
Even businesses recognize the importance of Arts Education. The Business Circle for Arts Education in Oklahoma discovered that Arts Education builds a school climate of high expectation, discipline, and academic rigor that attracts businesses relocating to your community. It strengthens student problem-solving and critical thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement and school success and helps students develop a sense of craftsmanship, quality task performance, and goal-setting-skills needed to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Perhaps most importantly, Arts Education can help to “level the learning field”, bridging the gap between socio-economic inequality and academic performance. Both the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) and Youth Arts Development Project found that Arts Education tremendously impacts developmental growth, allowing huge strides in closing the gap between high and low income students’ academic achievement.
As a Gallery Teacher at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, I have had first hand experience of Art Education positively affecting all of these areas. In preparing academic tours of the collection for K-12 LAUSD school groups, I have engaged with students of all ages, languages, socio-economic backgrounds, and physical and learning disabilities. I have seen how every child has the ability to succeed, and that the discussion and practice of Art can help a child discover the specific tools that they need in order to feel confident and achieve their full academic potential. My job as a Gallery Teacher is to modify each discussion to the individual, helping them to draw conclusions about their own observations. I think Klimt would agree, I help them to draw a line around their thoughts.