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Why Art Education?

In the blog post “A Deeper Look: What is Art Education” I outlined what art education is and how that plays out in my practice. I started to tease out why this is an important component of learning and here I’d like flush it out a bit more and the importance the imagination.

Art education is critical in our development because it allows us to broaden our perspectives of what is possible and of what we thought was true. When we let go of a product focused art lesson and engage in meaningful art education that evokes imagination, multiple perspectives and possibilities, processes that can have many different outcomes and different points of entry for students we actualize deep learning and developmental opportunities. This creates openings to encounter a myriad of different possibilities and different outcomes. Students and educators are then able to connect to the notion that art education can be about exploring the unknown in order to expand our understandings of ourselves and our world.

The imagination is such an incredible thing. Our imaginations run wild when we are young, we make up different world’s, creatures, and different ways of operating. As we grow up we don’t lose our imagination, we use it in a different way and for different purposes. Art education plays a key role in allowing us to engage in imaginative thought and exercise our imaginations. Maxine Greene explains, “Made aware of ourselves as questioners, as meaning makers, as persons engaged in constructing and reconstructing realities with those around us, we may communicate to students the notion that reality is multiple perspectives and that the construction of it is never complete that there is always more.” In both observing art and creating art with others we are able to see that people have different lived experiences. Imagining the experience of someone else allows us to develop empathy and understanding. It broadens our understandings and allows us to connect with the humanity of one another.

Being aware that we can reconstruct reality opens the door to imagining the world in a different way and allows us to question the status quo. It allows us to think critically about the injustices we see around us because we can imagine both ourselves in that position, and imagine the world operating in a way that is just and fair. We can imagine different roles for ourselves. Thus allowing us to break with the social constructs that have quieted our voices or made us feel we couldn’t do something. The act of imagining pushes us into a realm of thought that can then be utilized to evoke necessary change in our world because we recognize our ability to construct different realities.

Let’s now consider art not simply as a representation of our world, our thoughts, or experiences, and rather consider art as an exploration or a revealing of our world, thoughts or experiences. This transition changes the role of art in our lives. Elizabeth Grierson asks, “What if we think of art as a way of revealing the world of ideas rather than representing them? What if we move art beyond the transmission model of education to another space of enquiry? Art then becomes a conditional practice with potential to initiate a reverberating ground between social ideas and actions, imagination and experience, referencing present and possible futures, coexisting histories, lineages and assumptions - material, social, cultural and political.” No longer representational but rather an active element in our growth and understanding, this further highlights the key role art education plays in our cognitive and social development.

On the surface art education is often seen as learning about processes, exploring different mediums and creating art. When we dig below we can explore the roots of art in our society. Why it is so essential in our development and why it is fundamental in our understandings and misunderstandings of the world.

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