Why Art in Schools is Vital [Interview]

Who thinks art is important? Most people explore their humanity via the arts. I’m a strong believer in a hands-on approach to learning and think art is a great way to stimulate creative ideas. Not everyone agrees that visual arts should be given equal status in education; it’s definitely an underrated discipline. Listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s persuasive TED talk here about how schools kill creativity and you might rethink that status.

It’s hard not to get discouraged (especially when you have children) by the increasingly standardised path education is taking. However, I’m focusing on the coalface today and chatting with an art teacher and artist who is determined to encourage creativity within her class.

Sue was a graphic designer, who ran art classes for primary school children, before deciding to retrain as a senior school art teacher. The most creative kids she’s taught were in reception to year 3. She noticed a distinct decline in older children’s creativity and largely blames a fear of failure as the main reason, which the grading of work exacerbates.

Now a senior school teacher, Sue endeavours to unleash her students’ creativity by placing emphasis on the process and exploration of ideas, rather than the final result. As an artist, she understands the restraining emphasis placed on a final piece and is learning to apply this to her own art practice. Her students are encouraged to push boundaries and make mistakes:  “It’s better for them to falter in the comfort of a classroom, where I can guide and encourage problem-solving.”

 To her delight, this practice has stimulated creativity and risk-taking within her students work. Another way she encourages creativity is to get them to think about their own resources: “I like them to go outside – explore nature and get inspiration. Using their own experiences and memories in their work is important.”

The classroom becomes a creativity hub where: “I feel like I’m being creative with the kids – that’s rewarding, coming up with ideas they’ll enjoy.  Like when we were doing colour theory and I played music videos related to colour. The kids thought that was great!”

When a classroom is allowed to have this much fun great things happen and teachers get to learn from kids. One printmaking lesson the queue for the printing press was very long. A student said, “Maybe if I stand on this my body weight will press the ink into the paper.” He put his work on the floor and moved his feet all around the paper and you know what – it worked really well!

As Sue says, “If kids are given the opportunity to experiment they can come up with great solutions.” And that’s called creativity.

I’d love to hear your stories about art at school. Did you have an encouraging teacher who let you experiment? Leave a comment if you’d like to continue the conversation!