Artfully Senseless

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Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.”  Leonardo da Vinci              (from The Art of Artificial Evolution)

Does participation in the arts increase knowledge?  Since the publication of “The Mozart Effect” study, scientists have been asking this question.  Artists already know the answer is yes.  The more studies are undertaken, the more the facts will become clear. Learning is enhanced when visual art and music increase the amount of sensory input.  Conceptual learning increases with the use of creative problem solving.  Adding eyes, ears, and imagination will bring on more cognitive understanding.  It just makes sense to add the senses to education.

In her dissertation for the University of Kentucky, Jennifer Sue Shank looks at the effects visual art has on the ability to learn music.  Her paper entitled, “The effect of Visual Art on Music Listening,” examined the introduction of visual stimuli to enhanced identification of musical elements by elementary teachers.  The results showed a statistically significant increase of music learning among the group exposed to selected works of visual art while listening to music.  Shank’s paper is very interesting and well worth reading all the way through.

Karin Evans, writing for The University of California, Berkeley, covers much of the findings of research on the subject of arts and learning in her appropriately titled article, “Arts and Smarts.”  Evans covers both research findings and the skeptics’ arguments.   One of the issues Evans covers is the benefit of the arts in teaching students the ability to envision solutions.  Arts enable students to develop the use of creative problem solving.  Evans also covers research on how the arts enhance the ability of students to feel and express empathy with human emotion.

 The National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (nasaa-arts.org) discusses the finding of the relationship of increased SAT scores in students who actively participate in the arts.  The NASAA-ARTS details the benefits of art on general education in “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Education“.  More than SAT scores are improved through the arts but SAT scores are a telling measurement of the effect of art on learning.  Abundant evidence exists on arts and learning.

In spite of this growing body of evidence, schools are drastically cutting arts education.  Slowly and methodically, the arts are being removed from courses offered.  Science teachers are in demand.  Art teachers are not.  Yet from da Vinci to Einstein, the greatest thinkers throughout history have actively engaged in both the arts and the sciences.  Without arts to engage the senses, will education grow more senseless?  It appears so.

Sketching Knowledge

Look into Nature, then you will understand it better.”  Albert Einstein, (from A.S.L. & Associates)Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 10.26.32 AM

A growing body of research is suggesting students may learn science more effectively by using their imaginations through various forms of art expression.  Doodling, drawing, collage, and sketchbooking are all methods students can use as vehicles for creative learning.  Art may in fact be a more successful form of knowledge retention than traditional note taking.   Art forces the student to actually look at the subject and draw on imagination.

Live Science has an article on using artistic expression for science learning and quotes Australian researcher Russell Tytler of Deakin University in Waurn Pond, Australia as saying, “ We can have students exercising their creativity and imagination in order to learn the canonical knowledge of science.  There is no need for it to be ‘transmitted’ to students as dead knowledge.”  Students learn concepts by art projects.

Art would likely hold student attention longer, as well.  What’s more fun: taking notes from a boring lecture or creating art projects?  Doodling notes instead of writing them captures more focused attention.  The student must use eyes, ears and imagination to utilize art making for learning, a triple focus.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.

It will be interesting to see if more schools take up art as a form of learning.  However, schools are cutting art rather than increasing its use in curriculum.  How much evidence will it take to change that process?  Time will tell.

Who Lights The Fire??

“Nothing changes until something moves.”  Albert Einstein (from The Painter’s Keys)

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Does art have the ability to move people to action?  Do actions move artists to create?  Would anything move without art?  It may depend on the art and on the audience.  Perhaps it is the artist’s role to tap into the emotions of the audience, give it voice and lead the inspiration to move.

In a blog titled Sci Art Sci, the author delves in to the question of whether art can move people not already inclined to be moved.  He describes an example of an art project designed to highlight a particular issue.  He follows his example with the statement, “…I would say this piece has the potential to raise an eyebrow, to make somebody who already cares care a little bit more, for a time.  And maybe that’s enough.”  Maybe it is.  Sometimes a fire only needs a spark.

Recalling some of the movements of the nineteenth century, art is very much a part of the history of the moment.  Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (more here) is one example of art as part of a movement.  Did this painting inspire greater nationalism?  Or was it an illustration of the moment?   Examples abound of art and movements.  Does art provide the spark to a dry woodpile that sets it alight?  Or the other way around?  Any thoughts?