Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Question of Arts Education

“Artists speak to us in a language that carries meaning that cannot be conveyed through words. Will our children be able to understand what they have to say? Even more, will they know their messages exist?” -Elliot W. Eisner, U.S. professor of education and art

Less than 10 percent of state arts budgets went on arts education in the past 20 years. This, say Rand researchers, has led to a declining interest in arts.

In the preface of its report Cultivating Demand for the Arts, which is available for free download, the authors note:

"Recent reports and commentaries point to a growing gap between the quantity of artworks produced by American artists and arts organizations and the desire and ability of many Americans to experience those artworks. This report offers a framework for thinking about supply and demand in the arts and suggests that too little attention has been paid to cultivating demand. It identifies the roles of different factors, particularly arts learning, in stimulating interest in the arts and enriching individuals’ experiences of artworks. It also describes the institutional infrastructure that provides arts learning for Americans of all ages."

Back in 1988, Frank Hodsoll, chariman of the National Endowment for the Arts, observed:

“While 15 per cent of the elementary school day is devoted to the arts, it is likely taught by general classroom teachers who lack relevant training in the arts. Although 17 per cent of the junior high/middle school day is occupied by the arts, it is likely focused on creation and performance, with no attempt to impart historical or aesthetic context. It is almost entirely confined to visual art and music, with very little dance or drama and no attention to the design or media arts…we will be counting on the voices of the American people to join us in one loud chorus for arts education.”

Although this quote is 20 years old, it seems as though the situation has hardly changed and the loud chorus for arts education was more of a hum.

One of the arguments that is often put forward for arts funding is that studying the arts improves performance in other academic areas. For example, music increases math proficiency. Why do we resort to this argument instead of arguing that arts education increases art proficiency?

We are, perhaps, used to making economic arguments for educaton. Go to school, get an education, and you'll make more money over the course of your life. We're hard pressed to argue that years of focus on ballet or poetry will increase someone's earning potential.

And why is a philosopher, poet, musician or dancer likely to have a lower income? Here we get back to the Rand study, which argues that we don't fund arts because we didn't learn their value in school.

Assuming that most of our readers fall into the supply side of these economics (dancers, dance teachers, artists) do you agree with Rand's assessment? How would you suggest increasing demand for arts in general and classical arts in particular? Are we doomed to be locked into a cultural value system where a lack of arts education breeds a disinterest in arts, which leads to less value and support for arts education? The comments are open. Ideas and opinions welcome.

Resource of the Day

In my random blog surfing, I came across a web page with the redundant title "Russian Video from Russia." It has a lot of ballet postings on a ballet theme.