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What is the Purpose of Art Education

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“Art performs this pacifying function in culture… Its practitioners create commonalities… I always quote a guy named Lewis Hyde, who wrote about primitive cultures, where there’s an exchange of gifts that cannot be kept but have to be passed on. And the passing on of gifts is a device to prevent people from killing one another, because they all become part of a single experience. And his leap of imagination occurs when he says, ‘And this is what artists do in culture — artists provide that gift to the culture, so that people have something in common.’

And I think that for all of us who identify with the role of artists in history have that intuition about things, and want our work to serve that purpose.” Milton Glaser, Graphic Designer ( Brain Pickings)

As both an artist and art teacher, I’m always asking myself two questions.

  1. How can I do better at advocating for the arts?
  2. What needs to be done so that we finally reach a point where we don’t need to advocate for art and art education?


The first question seems much easier than the second, so that’s where I’m starting.


We often hear of arts being advocated for in one of two ways, 1. Art is important because it improves math and reading scores, or 2. art is it important for arts sake. ( I’m aware that I”m simplifying things a bit)


While there is nothing wrong with having one subject feed into and improve upon another, in fact, I’m a strong believer in holistic learning, but then we need to also discuss how math and reading can lend themselves to art. If we advocate art for only how it can help other subjects, we are still always placing art as a lesser subject, as a thing that cannot stand on it’s own, making art forever endanger if it’s only importance is to improve test scores.


Is that really what art is for?


When we switch to the argument Art for Art’s Sake, we do attempt to have art to stand solidly on it’s own, however, to the non-artist, what does that mean? What does it look like, and why should they care?


The phrase ‘art for art’s sake’ condenses the notion that art has its own value and should be judged apart from any themes which it might touch on, such as morality, religion, history, or politics. It teaches that judgments of aesthetic value should not be confused with those proper to other spheres of life. The idea has ancient roots, but the phrase first emerged as a rallying cry in 19th century France, and subsequently became central to the British Aesthetic movement. Although the phrase has been little used since, its legacy has been at the heart of 20th century ideas about the autonomy of art, and thus crucial to such different bodies of thought as those of formalism, modernism, and the avant-garde. Today, deployed more loosely and casually, it is sometimes put to very different ends, to defend the right of free expression, or to appeal for art to uphold tradition and avoid causing offense.”

Source: http://www.theartstory.org/definition-art-for-art.htm


If neither of the above are strong arguments or demonstrating that they’re making much difference in saving or even growing art education, then what should we do?


Let’s look the world of advertisement and think about how businesses sell products and ideas. What language do they use, how do they position themselves to make you believe that you really do need the newest iPhone or the $7.00 cup of coffee?


This isn’t a business class, so I’m going to simplify things a bit. Here a few things that businesses do well.

  1. They tell us why we want the thing ( not why they made it or why it even matters to them)
  2. They tell us how the thing is going to make our lives better. ( They show us how their product will solve a problem that we have)
  3. They speak in a language that we understand, they use our words.


Now it’s your turn.


  1. Who is your customer? ( Who are you trying to sell art education to?)
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Administration
  • School board members


  1. What problems does your selected person(s) have?


  1. How will art education solve their problem?


  1. How can you explain your above answers using language that your customer understands?