The value of art education

January 9, 2017 by Joshua
in Art, Education

Engineering, technical, and artistic types often put down the arts and art education as not practical. In an engineering, technical, entrepreneurial community I participate in sometimes, the question arose if anyone had an art degree.

Though I don’t, for the double reason that I learned a lot during my foray into creating and showing art, and basing my teaching in part on the structure of art instruction, I wrote the following, which I consider relevant to teaching the subjects I do:

I didn’t go to art school, but since my first invention was a new medium with new modes of expression that no one else understood like I did, I couldn’t help myself making art with it despite my PhD being in physics. I had several solo gallery shows in New York City, pieces in museums and shown across the U.S. and some internationally, a couple big public pieces in Manhattan, and I taught a couple classes in art/design (at NYU’s ITP and at Parsons).

Now that I teach and coach leadership (not IT work, so different than the question asked), I find art training tremendously valuable. Our educational system is strong on intellectually challenging people, but socially and emotionally teaches more passivity and compliance.

Creating art forces you to express your emotions, be sensitive to others’, to face criticism on what you consider beautiful, to face vulnerabilities, to grow and learn in ways that lecture, problem sets, case studies, reading, and writing papers don’t promote.

I also took some acting classes. Their structure has become the structure of how I teach, which gets very positive reviews from my students. They commonly comment that they never learned this way before, that they didn’t know they could learn what they do in my courses, that they value it deeply, that it’s immediately practical, and they wish they had more of it.

We teach fields that are active, social, expressive, emotional, and performance-based differently than academic subjects and that training teaches genuineness, authenticity, self-awareness, and other things that traditional academic education doesn’t.

Many people think the value of art is about appreciating the art, seeing its effect on culture, and being able to talk about it at cocktail parties. Those things aren’t worthless, but I consider them passive compared to making art, which develops skills valuable beyond what any lecture can deliver. You can also get a lot of that value from sports and some other active activities.

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