Is Art a Waste of Time?

Many artists have been dissuaded from pursuing their art because of what people think about art and artists.  There has been, for many decades, a common perception that artists are wastrels and that making art is not a real job.  Artists have been seen as (and valued as) a net drain on the economy.  In education, art has been seen as an unnecessary frippery, a waste of time and something that only the namby-pamby think is worthwhile.  Funding of the arts in education has therefore seen the most savage of cuts in austere times.  It’s the first thing to be thrown overboard.  In short, art has been seen, in the popular mind, as something entirely optional.  By extension, artists have been seen as superfluous too.

It turns out that this is a blatant, wrong-headed, blind, prejudice, utterly refuted by the facts.  Not only is art not optional, it turns out to be necessary.  Furthermore, by not educating people in the arts, it actually reduces their achievements in traditional literacy and numeracy disciplines.  A lack of art education impoverishes humanity in every way possible, including the very areas that are the focus of current educational policy (dogma).

In a landmark, ground-breaking study, the power of the arts in the classroom has been proven incontestably and irrefutably to lift test results in literacy and numeracy to the equivalent of an extra year of school.  Pupil attendance and wellbeing, their engagement and participation across the curriculum were also raised.  As little as an hour of music a week can produce these results.

Professor Brian Caldwell and Dr Tanya Vaughan are here to tell you low-cost, high-grade results can come from a simple, sustained program of arts in the primary school classroom.  Their book, Transforming Education through the Arts, is a hit in the U.S., going to No.1 in the Amazon hot new sales category for books in high schools in a matter of months of being published by Routledge.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transforming-Education-through-Brian-Caldwell/dp/0415687020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330765283&sr=8-1

Their results are thoroughly tested.  For the first time, the value of learning in and through the arts to the broader curriculum and wider community has become hard science.  That value had a figure put to it by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2010.  For every £1 invested in the Creative Partnerships program in the U.K., the country received £15.3 worth of returns in social benefits since it started in 2002, under the guidance of Sir Ken Robinson.  How many other investments have made returns of 1,530% over the same period?

Perversely, we are yet to invest in arts-enhanced learning programs in any significant way.  The louder calls are to “go back to basics”.  Those programmes turn out to be utterly counter-productive.  The results you get are not the results you want.

Arts education is about equity and access, by providing the means to work together naturally, in a positive way and by celebrating diversity.  In short, it’s the gateway to engagement, when so many have shut the door or have had the door closed on them.

When school lessons focus relentlessly on numeracy and literacy, it leaves precious little time for imagination, for play and for daydreaming.  Regular readers of this blog will know how much I value all three.  There is mounting evidence that they’re essential components of learning.  Boredom, on the other hand, is not conducive to the uptake of information, trying hard or caring about the subject matter.  If the curriculum doesn’t engage the whole brain, we’re sacrificing aesthetic competence in a quest for numeracy and literacy.  We don’t even teach logic, rhetoric and propaganda self-defence.

If you happen to be poor at numeracy and literacy, your self esteem and self confidence are going to take a beating in schools that only value those things.  At least if there is an hour of art a week, you get to shine at something you might be very good at.  Everyone needs to shine.  We are all good at something.  Whatever we are good at should be valued, or we deny the value of abilities that have survived and developed through millions of years of evolution and natural selection.  Who are we to deny millennia of evolution?

Being good at something means we have hope.  Hope is essential for life, too.  A feeling of hopelessness leads to all manner of social problems and breakdown of society.  In the age of austerity, hope is under massive assault.  Maintaining a grip on hope, through art education, has to be a worthwhile thing.

Art is also about joy and we should bestow joy upon our children.  The alternative is misery.  There is nothing more joyful and satisfying that creating something.  The best critique of the world you live in, it has been said, is to make something.  Showing kids how to unlock the power of creativity and allowing them to see how to shape the world into something of beauty is a skill far more valuable than basic numeracy and literacy, as necessary as both of those skills are.  I’m an engineer by training and inclination, so I’m highly numerate and schooled in the sciences, but I know that engineering is better when coupled with an education in art.  Engineering in the service of humanity is more successful when you have a more rounded appreciation of all that being human means.

We seem to be hell bent on producing cohorts of obedient insurance claim assessors (no offence intended to those people), rather than people who have an artistic outlook, who care passionately, seek beauty, create, enhance and give of themselves, generously.  We need that spark of spontaneous invention, innovation, imagination and inspiration that is learned best through art education.  It benefits the world in manifold ways.  Producing generations of people that are wholly unskilled in invention, or in thinking innovatively, who are unimaginative and lacking in inspiration is tantamount to a crime, in my view.  Art education humanises us, rather than mechanising us.

Given the now unarguably established power of art to increase engagement, reduce absenteeism and produce peaceful collaboration, infused with joyful, mutual respect and given the terrible damage done to millions of individuals already in the world of work by the misguided education policies of their youth that impoverished their artistic education, what would happen if offices and workplaces devoted time to making music?  What if you could paint at work for thirty minutes a week?  What would that ultimately do for productivity, company performance, innovation, staff turnover, customer satisfaction and the financial health of the company?  Must we all stare into Outlook incessantly all week (how ironic is that product name?)

If not in work time (though I strongly advocate that), there are tangible, measurable benefits to be gained by companies funding the art education of their employees, after hours.  Funding this adult art education is a highly effective overall employee performance enhancement technique.  Continuous education should not be narrowly focused on one or two technical specialisations, even though education in these specialisations is undoubtedly valuable.  Learning to use your whole brain more effectively has to pay major dividends for corporations brave enough to believe in established facts.  For one thing, it’s an antidote to stress and frustration.  And it works!

The world is not meant to be grindingly, ploddingly numerate and literate.  That’s a very bleak conception of human life and endeavour.  Adding a bit of art to the mix makes us more numerate and literate, not less.  More importantly, it makes us more human.

If our goal is to raise the intellectual accomplishments of the population, then art is a sure fire method.  We have the facts.  Denial of fact takes us into the realm of something altogether more dark and sinister.  If we deny the transformative power of art, we’re dealing with wilful ignorance, latent hatred of humanity, hidden agendas, control freakery, oppression or a desire for the subservience of others.

I think we can do better than that.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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21 Responses to Is Art a Waste of Time?

  1. Pingback: » Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity – Video

  2. Calvin G says:

    It is a waste. I fucking hate all art. I even burned all my drawings to prove it.

  3. Story Addict says:

    Thanks so much for this post! A lot of the times I do wonder…where has the worth of art education gone? People used to train in art and become respected artists. With photography and technology, that worth has gone down, but it is still a practice that is not only desired but necessary. I somewhere heard that the first thing which truly distinguished us from animals was our ability to create art. That definitely made me think twice about its significance.

    • What a thoughtful comment. Thank you so much for posting it. I think that art, above all else, shows you different ways of thinking, perceiving, seeing and sensing. All of those skills are not easily learned in other more academic disciplines. For reasons of intellectual and creative diversity alone, I think teaching art is extraordinarily valuable.

      • To echo your reply, I’ve always felt out of touch with much of humanity, but I firmly believe that about a third of everything I know about being a human being I learned from movies or particularly well written TV shows. The education of life is wholly different than the typical approach used in industrial education, art is a disruption of that paradigm of binaries and measurements.

        I should append myself though, I believe even science, indeed any field, can and should be taught as an art as well (Just imagine binaries and measures, imagination and passion, all rewarded, all in moderation).

      • I share your thought that science and technology have artistic aspects to them, that are largely unrecognised. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Pingback: Art? Learning? What Do They Have In Common? | Julia C

  5. Heya i’m for the primary time here. I came across this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to provide something back and help others like you aided me.

  6. Denis says:

    Whereas, art and education [you would think] goes hand in glove as part of the overall education and enlightenment of the human race- Today, the question is what is taught and how the ‘specialist’ degrees are pointed towards the Academic theories of Art in the 20th century- starting at 1962 onwards. The broader based understanding of art through deeper study of arts beginnings tends to be overlooked. This results in Graduates who believe and create in an art of ‘social dis-affirmative’ qualities and anti-art theoretical standpoints – [perhaps in order to gain a collaborative studio arrangement for intellectual curatorial projects, which in themselves are generally politically motivated by what is happening in our world, even though highlighting them even in a grand setting . i.e. The Tate- seldom solves the problems facing the world].-

    Its a non-forward thinking type of art culture that serves the ‘now’ and not the ‘visionary’ art that we would have hoped to be seeing at this stage of human cultural development. Art has reached a dead end and dropped in the abyss. Therefore it repeats itself with monotonous regular offerings of banality promoted by the media to give the general public something to laugh about, or become annoyed about [as a waste of money] or for intellectuals to chat about over dinner. And of course, lets not forget, that Art is now, and always has been, a commodity business –
    Today – the more banal or plagiaristic it is – the more its worth.

    Is art education a waste of time?
    Not if you decide to teach yourself – from scratch – And learn to create from a desire of sheer enjoyment or improvement of self awareness – Yes it is, if you think todays Arts Degrees carry any value of merit for society whatsoever, a society that has gladly swapped art institutional recognized Artists ‘output’ for their own and their friends ‘input’ on Facebook and Twitter, or other social platform websites.

    • I like that you made a distinction between the plain old practice of art making and art education. I agree that the established art education available takes people down blind alleys. I also agree that just because you engage in making art, you aren’t necessarily changing the world. My purpose in writing the piece was to give some hope, because art and especially the art establishment has become bogged down with the dead weight of its own self importance. The observation I was trying to make was that, despite all of these obvious limitations to art education, the actual practice of art can be a very positive thing and can, in optimistic (and perhaps unrealistic) hands, do a damned lot of good. I certainly don’t think art in education should be dropped. That simply opens the doors to creating a nation of productivist automatons programmed for maximum obedience and minimum humanity.

      Thank you so much for commenting. You clearly have thought about the question in depth.

    • Incidentally, this post is one of the ones I have written that consistently gets read. The search term that most often brings people here is “Is art a waste of time” or “Art is a waste of time”, so clearly it’s something a lot of people are concerned about.

  7. trellabrazil says:

    yet, if it is a big “star” making the art, then suddenly it has this obscene monetary value placed on it, such as the money earned by _____(Taylor Swift, Katy Perry..) in one concert. So if we are to follow such a culture we would have to think: any art that is not in the mainstream media is a waste of time. Wrong! Sometimes just the reverse. The art, music, writing that is shared locally, with even a circle of friends, or here on wordpress blogs that are seen by a handful of people, changes the world and heals lives every day…keep doing it, all of you “starving” artists out there

    • Absolutely. Well said. All art has intrinsic value. Even if your art is appreciated by a handful of people, but it touches them deeply, you’ve made a significant difference to the state of the universe. Art matters. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this, I always enjoy reading about this particular subject because I feel that art is often undervalued – or, in fact, some things aren’t even considered to be art because of arbitrary considerations. For example, some people would say that neither graffiti nor tattoos are art. Personally, I disagree – though I will also admit that some things that ARE considered art befuddle me and make me wonder who, exactly, it is that has the final say on what exactly does or does not constitute “art”?

  9. Nicholas Peart says:

    The following article by Dustin Timbrook actually argues that in the future our creativity will be our most important asset as most jobs become lost to automation…

    http://www.rocketcitymom.com/want-children-survive-future-send-art-school/

    • It’s the reason I have encouraged my own children in the arts, especially music. Your brain works a different way, when you learn to be an artist. This whole blog site has that theme running through it. I hope you have the time to dip into some of my other articles. Thanks for the link. I’ll go and read it now. P.S. Love your web site.

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