I haven’t taken the time yet on this website to offer any thoughts about the bigger picture of arts education, but this weekend’s orchestra festival and an article I recently read have inspired me, so here goes…
I was intensly proud to be a part of this district’s orchestra faculty this weekend at our annual spring festival. To see and hear the mass orchestra is inspiring and evidence, again, that what we have here is special and needs to be protected. It is so difficult to build and excellent arts program and so easy to dismantle one. An article in the Wall Street Journal from a year and a half ago offers perspective about the importance of the arts. I recommend the entire article that you can link to here.
In the article, Dana Gioioa (Poet, author and directer of the National Endowment of the Arts) sites some pretty interesting data about the development of two subgroups in our American culture. One tends to spend their collective free-time as passive consumers of electronic media; the other engages in civic responsibilities and active pursuits. The thing that is fascinating about these two behavior groups (but not really all that surprising) is what separates them. Gioioa writes:
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn’t income, geography or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.
Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world–equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being–simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories or songs or images.
We must always continue to nurture this orchestra program and remember the importance of what we are doing. It is really easy to see the need for excellence in the subject areas that have mandated tests, whose results are posted in the media continually. But the arts programs are often the easiest to cut back and trim as they somehow have not been given a “core” designation…even though throughout history music and the arts have been regarded as quintessential to the human experience. Involvement in the arts is now largely accepted as contributing or at the very least correlating with improved academics elsewhere, but regardless of how involvement in the arts may help a student in other subject areas, the arts are important in their own right. The argument that a person should study music because it might help them in math class misses the point of arts education. People should study music because in doing so they gain a unique way of knowing the world that cannot be assessed in any other subject area. I am happy that the RAS community has recognized this and continues to support it!