Art Education: The Life Vest Some Students Need

By Amanda Rogers March 26th, 2014 10:00 AM

Good teachers know how to modify their teaching and classroom environment to meet the needs of their students. Great teachers understand that all students learn differently and design their lessons based on student interests and strengths. But, to be realistic, we all know that not every student can be vocal about what they need.

That’s where visual arts comes in.  For those students who lack confidence in academic classes or struggle with certain tasks, arts instruction can act as a life vest. In my seven years of teaching, I have had artistically talented students, but I’ve also had students who see art class as an escape from their regular classes.  These students have asked questions that not only push their thinking, but also my own. These disconnected students are able to feel successful in a new and exciting way in my class and show their academic progress through creating art.

Picture the cave drawings of Lascaux France; what were those early humans trying to record? I like to think that the drawings were a way in which humans realized they could not always put their thoughts into words, but could rely on their hands to share what they wanted to say. Visual arts education also exposes students to the “how’s” and “why’s” of the world. It encourages students to explore paintings and sculptures and, if guided properly, end up with more questions about the piece than when they first looked at it. These questions are important because they push students’ understanding of the world they live in. Learning to unleash these questions on every day tasks creates humans who are inventors, innovative thinkers, and leaders. Think about the evolution of photography and digital media in the past ten years. The industry has exploded due to someone asking “why” and “how” and “what can I do to make this better?”

The constant flow of these questions is essentially the basis of art education. When students are creating or looking at art, they are often internally asking, “how can I make this differently?” or “am I challenging myself to my fullest potential?” Disconnected learners or unchallenged exceptional students often find this mode of thinking refreshing and compelling. Unlike math or language arts, much of the art world does not have a correct answer. Teaching students this mode of thinking empowers them and builds their confidence, ultimately giving them a new way to approach their learning.

Arts education doesn’t need to be confined to the art room, and I encourage general education classroom teachers to incorporate visual arts into their lessons. It can be the outlet and frame of mind that some of our students need. When a child feels that it is okay to ask questions and they can show their learning by creating art, the entire world can be unlocked for them. Offer your students the option to sketch an answer to a question.  Let them observe a painting from the time period you’re currently teaching. Whatever arts integration tools you decide to use in your classroom, I guarantee that you will have more involved students and richer conversations with them about what they are learning.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @NEcityart