Last week, I went to my doctor for a monthly visit and tweaking. As I checked in at the receptionist’s desk, I glanced at the wall in the next room.
“Who is the artist?” I exclaimed.
Someone (I am being discreet.) leaned over to read the name at the bottom of a framed photocopy of a horse and rider.
“Oh! I mean the artwork next to that one,” I replied, pointing to the sheet of computer paper scotch taped to the wall; obviously an original drawing created by an artist whose fist full of brightly colored maker pens captured not only a physical likeness, but also a remarkable spirited expression of my doctor.
“Ah, that’s Molly, my 11-year-old daughter,” came the proud response. Much to my delight, Molly had two more drawings of the staff to add to the collection.
Next my gaze fell (call me nosy, but alas, I am visually inclined) to a plastic display unit on the counter. Four greeting cards with different designs featured a selection of images in dynamic compositions inspired by a recent family trip. Cameras, castles, flowers, soldiers and parts of famous paintings, collaged in topsy-turvy arrangements, expressed the discovery, fun and shock when encountering a new culture. The display unit also featured a stack of snappy business cards with bright graphics.
I paused as my memory drifted back years to my first visit to this office. I still can feel the smile that spread across my face as pencil images of animals and people whimsically sketched on small squares of paper taped up on the front of the counter greeted me. Plus a tiny square with a penciled five cents appeared next to each. What a treat to realize that the office has a gallery tradition more than a decade old. Over the years, I watched both the doctor’s children actively participate in theater, music and art activities, as well as sports. As many parents do in advising their children in educational directions and career opportunities, they understandably feel strongly about a pursuing a viable career. Being able to support yourself and a family and live a life unencumbered by money worries is a wish supported by the American Dream.
Thus armed with practical advice, the emerging artist is bound this week for a new adventure in higher education and a double major in environmental systems and a foreign language (still discreet?) Is the artistic genius squelched? Is the love of art lost forever? Am I to mourn the loss of his future creative expression? Hardly the case at all!
I’ll resist going overboard with a long discourse, citing facts and stats, however, the reports are numerous from reliable sources that champion the impact of education in the arts on elementary and high-schoolers. Who wants their kids to think that schoolwork is enjoyable? That school makes them think about things in new ways? That their school offers programs, classes, and activities that keep them interested in school? Look to the arts in education to make that happen.
While it may be difficult to get jazzed about the arts producing significant positive impacts on academic and social development (Yawn?), I can get excited about a child learning from mistakes, being inspired, motivated and curious, making better critical judgments, learning flexibility, having empathy for others and even developing visual analysis skills (Heck! Somebody has to help us sort through the barrage of advertising in the media that drowns us in consumerism.) Would you believe that at-risk students credit participation in the arts as their reason for staying in school and graduating? How about that participation in arts activities has a measurable change in delinquency, truancy and improves performance in their studies?
Who is confident that the next generation will be ready to take on the responsibility of this great experiment called democracy? Is there a primary or secondary teacher who is unaware of how pivotal a role they play in shaping the citizens and leaders of the future? Did you realize that experience in the arts, as part of the purpose of a well rounded education, increases civic engagement, greater social tolerance and reductions in problem behavior? Did you ever think how education in the arts may help close the gap between socioeconomic groups and thus create a more level playing field among children? Do you hear my concern, when I say that education in the arts is even more important in this critical time of heightened intolerance and pressing threats to our core democratic values?
Whoa! I’ll chill out and put my soap box away. But who has never seen the chubby fingers of a toddler wrapped around a crayon, while lost in a world of filling a page (or wall) with newfound motor skills combined with bright colors? The first expression in childhood is in pictures about family, animals, cars and monsters. The ability to express ourselves through gesture, movement, sound, and images is inherent in all of us as human beings. How much that develops and to what degree is different for all of us, but it is there. Education in the arts contributes to the richness of our lives and provides the underpinnings that make for success in any career.
In the meantime, cherish those drawings. Find a place on the fridge door or on a wall in your office to celebrate your expressive child. You are supporting a good citizen in the making and hope for the future. And a big cheer for the stockpile of creativity and imagination that will come in handy for problem solving in environmental systems for that college-bound Sheridanite!
Mary Jane Edwards is the executive director of JentelArts.