Art Matters

Art Matters
June 14, 2017 David Wiener

What’s going on? According to recent studies, school field trips to museums have dropped precipitously across America. Financial constraints and a pervasive thought process that such student trips are an unnecessary frill, have eroded our children’s exposure to art, culture, and history. Such trips are no longer seen as enrichment, but divvied out as reward programs. Should we be concerned?

Greene, Kashia, and Bowen (2014) argue that we should. “We find that students learn quite a lot. In particular, enriching field trips contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women who possess more knowledge about art, have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.”

Vatican statue – Photo by the author

It almost seems embarrassing to even have to write about this; it’s so obvious. Growing up in a family of architects and artists, I was exposed to an excess of art, galleries, museums and historical buildings. It seemed pretty “normal” but it became clear that so many friends and families did not make an effort for the arts. Art class in junior high or high school and that’s about it. And it’s interesting, now in my adult life, to see many of these same people caught up in what art to buy, what to decorate their homes with, what shows are coming to local museums, and even better, hearing about trips to foreign places to visit…museums!

Public art in New York City – Photo by the author

So how and why can we as a country reduce the arts to “also-ran” status when it comes to education and culture? The same people who are cutting spending, cutting programs, and cutting cultural attention, magically have all kinds of art adorning the walls of their homes and offices. It’s far too easy for politicians and schools to hide behind budget and priority excuses. It’s also far too easy for parents to forego art-oriented activities while focusing on sports, television, household chores and other diversions rather than take a chance and wander the local museum or gallery stroll. The excuses need to stop if we are to raise well-rounded, truly educated – and cultured – students and young adults.

Art is an innate and inseparable part of the human experience. Our desire to artistically express ourselves and our experiences dates to the prehistoric Stone Age, between 300,000 and 700,000 years ago, when humans created a cupule at the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India. The desire to create art may be hardwired in our DNA. While beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder – we must encourage and foster art so that future generations will have something to behold.

Frank Stella – Seattle Airport – photo by the author

Art for students should not be optional or viewed as an unnecessary luxury. It enables children to express themselves and the lens through which they see the world in diverse colors. Art cultivates acceptance, develops analytical thought, and breeds creativity – all essential attributes for our next generation workforce.

Field trips to art and history museums must be viewed as an integral part of school curriculum. Art is the manifestation of a creative mind and should be encouraged as much as possible. The leaders and thinkers of tomorrow need to be exposed. They need their own a box of crayons, today.

And for those parents who need a gentle shove; be more open to giving art equal time…you’ll be surprised at how your kids, and you, will be inspired after a historical tour through a museum, a cityscape, or even an airport.