You’ve heard it over and over again. “The arts matter.” “Art is good for kids.” “Arts education never gets as much funding as it should.” You’ve heard it before and perhaps, like most people, you’ve nodded your head in agreement. Why wouldn’t you? The arts are great and kids should be exposed to them. But could you explain why they are so important? Until recently, I don’t think I could. I knew I supported arts education, but I don’t think I could have backed up my opinion with anything more than a, “creativity is good” type of statement—kind of a cop-out, if you ask me. It’s especially ridiculous that I didn’t have any better answer considering that I completed post-baccalaureate degree in graphic arts after receiving my first degree in fine arts. You’d think after all of my education and specific focus in the arts, I would have perfected my response to the question, “Why does arts education matter?” Truth is, I didn’t know until just recently when I was forced to reflect on my educational path. I never realized that the skills that each of my professors reinforced in every art class were common themes that translated to the workplace and life in general. In case you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the arts in your education, or if you have and you just can’t get enough, I thought I’d share with you 10 life lessons that I learned from the arts.
Art taught me how to develop a solid concept. Art teaches you to think before you act, speak, or create. In order to create effective work, you have to think about it. You don’t create something from nothing--you must to consider what you are trying to say and then find the appropriate words or medium to communicate that concept.
Art made me think about other people. Many artists make their craft for their own pleasure and for the consumption of others. When painting a mural or rehearsing for a dance show, artists must consider their audience; what are their stories, what inspires them, what do they respond to, what moves them. They must do their research. Learn about their community. Open themselves to new cultures. Art is form of communication that transcends linguistic barriers.
Art taught me how to think critically. In both the creation and the critique of art, you learn to think deeply about the world around you. There must be a time for contemplation and analysis in order to fully understand the meaning or impact of something you or someone else has created. Art activates higher level thinking.
Art taught me discipline. To be an artist, you must be disciplined in your practice. You must learn the principles of art, such as balance and rhythm, and apply them to your work before you can break the rules. You have to spend time in the studio each and every day. You are forced to plan and develop a work style in order to produce good work. Now, tell me that doesn’t apply to everything you do in life!
Art trained me to communicate effectively. Life can be pretty darn difficult if you can’t communicate well. Art teaches you how to tell a story and pass a message along. It also shows you that people respond differently to different types of communication. If the first method wasn’t successful, be creative and consider a different approach, because there is always another solution.
Art showed me how to flexible. I’ll never forget that day in my Life Drawing class. We had been staring at a still life for two hours and for some reason I could not get it right on my paper. The perspective was wonky and don’t even get me started on the proportions. My professor circled the room and stopped at my easel. She asked me to put down my pencil and said she would be back in a moment. Two minutes later she returned with an eraser the size of my forearm. Without hesitation she put that eraser to the pad and rubbed away all existence of my drawing. All of that work--gone in less than thirty seconds. “Start over. Trust me.” She was right. I had gotten stuck trying to fix the same problems over and over, when all I needed was a fresh slate.
Art taught me to appreciate hard work. If you’ve ever been a part of an art show, a dance recital, or a concert, you know how much work goes into it. You learn to appreciate the time and dedication it takes and never again will you underestimate or undervalue hard work.
Art prepared me to receive feedback. It is hard to listen to someone critique your behavior or work and yet, you can’t go through life without dealing with this. These things become so close to you that it can easily feel personal or attacking. The truth is, even if it’s sometimes hard to hear, it usually helps you improve--if, and only if, you learn how to listen, digest, and move forward. Art teaches you how to do this. Every little reflection and every huge critique teaches you how use the feedback to grow and improve.
Art taught me how to problem-solve. When creating art, you run into all kinds of issues; the sculpture is too big to fit in the allotted space or the instrumental transition isn’t long enough for the scene change. Turns out, you run into all kinds of problems in life, too. The show must always go on and an artist must learn to problem-solve; to think critically about the issue at hand, brainstorm solutions, test ideas, and ultimately develop a creative solution.
Art showed me how to interact with all kinds of people. In art, as in life, you are often placed in situations with many different people from many professions and communities. My thesis project alone required me to work with administrators at the university, custodians of the studio space, art geeks, steel workers and laser cutters, museum curators, and so on. Art is a collaborative discipline and every project requires you to build new relationships and value every connection.