The school curriculum is generally divided into two camps: the arts and the sciences. Subjects are classified accordingly and lessons are planned based on which extreme they fall under. As a result science subjects are considered dry and serious, while arts subjects are thought of as fun but not essential. A lot of emphasis is placed on these science subjects in terms of resources and importance because they are seen as the route to employment, while arts subjects are utilised as fillers. This does an extreme disservice to arts subjects and art in particular, because it undermines the usefulness of art in the learning process.
To be fair, art has been credited with increasing creativity, imagination and expressiveness, but teachers may not realise that art can encourage critical thinking and enhance learning. Art lessons are able to appeal to a different side of the learner and stimulate different thought processes and alternative ways of thinking. We all know students learn differently, but it turns out that only a small percentage of people learn in an auditory way – as in traditional classrooms – while a much bigger majority learn visually or kinesthetically – which is what learning through art can cater for.
Art is a way to engage the students’ senses. Art projects provide an opportunity for students to involve their tactile, visual and olfactory senses in tandem with their brains. Art provides sensory stimulation for students of all ages and it can be utilised at any point in their development. In other words, art is appropriate for students of all ages and of all intellectual capabilities.
So how can art complement the learning process?
It aids retention
Doing a practical art project reinforces learning. Learning facts, figures and theories is one thing but putting them into practice physically allows students to grasp meaning more clearly. This has also been shown to improve retention as it provides an alternative model of learning.
It promotes literacy
Art has been shown to promote literacy and language development. Besides introducing concepts like visual literacy, spatial awareness and creativity, art encourages expression and creativity even at a non-verbal level.
It consolidates mathematical concepts
Maths is not only about figures. Maths also concerns structure, patterns, symmetry and shapes – all notions which are prevalent in art. Art lessons can be used to reinforce and practice these concepts.
Besides including art lessons in the curriculum, there is also room for art activities to be incorporated into other lessons. Art activities can be used to illustrate concepts in other subjects and can be used as a means of explanation and need not involve an entire lesson.
Or, students can be taken out of the classroom to get involved in art in the real world. This can be done by relating an excursion to the curriculum. For literature, you could watch a ballet, play or movie based on a novel; for History, you could visit an art exhibition which relates to the time period; for Science or Biology you could visit a museum.
Including instruction in art will help make your students more well-rounded in their education. Involvements in art has also been linked to higher academic scores, lower drop-out rates and increased participation. There is a lot of support to include more arts involvement in the school curriculum so the next time you are planning your lessons, think how you can take advantage of artistic principles to inform your teaching and your students’ learning.