The Importance of Arts Education in American Schools


Art education is based on examining and producing works of visual art, including drawings, paintings, collages and murals. The field of art also includes subjects in dancing, music and theater. Art subjects have been found to be very essential in a child's education and many researches have been carried out to determine the benefits of teaching art based subjects in schools (Kinder, & Harland, 55). Writers have also written books challenging the education systems which do not recognize the importance of incorporating art based subjects in their education curriculum. Over years, art education has been struggling to be included in general education system. It is worth noting that, art education becomes the first one to be scrapped out of the curriculum when it is been restructured which clearly shows how it is less valued. It is also important to note that most schools teach art subjects in the after school hours which makes' it less popular than other subjects (Forbes, par 3). However, the American government has played a very key role in popularizing the importance of having art education in schools.

The No child is Left behind Act of 2001, is one of the major efforts that the American government has undertaken in promoting art education. NCLB supports standards-based education reform, which is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcome in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if they were to receive federal funding for schools.  Since the enactment of this Act, great improvements in the overall performance of the students have been recorded in schools that receive federal funding for the Program (New York State Alliance for Arts Education, par 5). This paper therefore aims at evaluating the benefits that come along with teaching art education in American schools and also examining how American schools are failing to promote creativity in schools.

Statement of the problem

Ever since art education was introduced in American education system in the middle of the nineteenth century, several issues have been raised regarding the role of arts in the education system. This has made introduction and implementation of art related subjects in American schools difficult. Many articles have been written down putting forward arguments for or against art education in American schools. Since the middle of the twentieth century which was faced by cuts in arts education due to budgetary constrains and educational movements from "Back to Basics" to high-stakes testing, art educators have come out strongly to advocate for inclusion of art education in schools (Jensen, 139). The persisting question regarding art in schools is "to be or not to be". Persons against having art subject in schools ague that art is not an academic subject but an extracurricular activity. They defend themselves by saying that the notion that skills learned through the arts can be transferred to other areas such as math remains contested (Dobbs, 78).

The other challenge faced by these Programme the failure by the federal government to measure the skills gained through participation in arts. Some of art subjects are too expensive to adopt which makes it difficult for some schools to afford. The issue on how to incorporate art education has been of major concern. Over many years, the debate on who should teach art courses has been the main subject (Kinder, & Harland, 91). The lack of well trained personnel to train some technical art courses in schools has been found to be a contributing factor that is discouraging introduction of art related subjects in schools although some proponents' ague that specialists are not the only ones who can teach art courses (Baum, & Owen, 66). The appropriate time to teach art education has remained debate able with some arguing that it be taught in school hours while others propose for after school hours. Deciding on which form art to be taught in schools has also raised considerable questions which has brought a lot of drawbacks in the process of implementing art education in schools (Forbes, par 3).  

Time lines in the history of art education in American history

For many decades, art education has tried to remodel its self in order to fit into the dynamic world as it is going to be seen in the brief history of the evolution of art education. This history offers rich and diverse validations for arts in the education system (Finniston, p.81). In course of its evolution, art educators have tried to come with many uses of art in order for it to fit in the ever changing world and to prove how art can be useful in promoting learning.

Prior to 1820:- Art education during the first 200 years of America was consisted of largely educating girls in the ornamental arts and boys in drawing architecture. Apprenticeships continued to play an important role in the development of trade and most art education was for utilitarian purposes (Kinder, & Harland, 105). Painters and sculptors traveled abroad for their education. Formal art training was finally provided for artists in America around the turn of the 19th century when art academies were developed (University of North Texas, 6).

1821-1850:- Art education in America was described as drawing instruction and it was in its infancy during the early to mid-19th century. Its growth was slow. Organized teaching of drawing did not occur until 1870's. The development of the common school movement which was led by dedicated individuals who introduced art into the public education system was in progress. This was faced with a challenge of rejection since not every person welcomed the idea of having art being taught in schools.

1851:- This was the period when America was seeking stability and identity. During this period, to different approaches emerged regarding art education. This approaches were brought about by educators where by some called for a rigidity and practical learning while others fostered natural, creative expression through creative learning (Winner, & Hetland, par 14). These two ideas were then later used as the foundation for practices and theories that developed in years that followed later.

1871:- This was the period that followed after the civil war in America. Despite the rapid industrial changes that were taking place, the poor conditions that were prevailing in the country following the devastation of the civil war and a steep rise in immigration, education became a major force in America towards the end of the 19th century (University of North Texas, 27). During this period, common and normal schools were flourishing and illiteracy rate dropped substantially as education became more readily available to the general public. These did not go on smoothly despite the fact that many considered education to be of great importance as different opinions rose up regarding the purpose of school and the role of teachers.

1901:- Before the World War I, education was focused on the continual development of industry. This saw America becoming the largest manufacturing nation in the world at the turn of the century. At the same time, school administrators modeled their management plans and students were seen as products which made art to fail the test of cost efficiency. It is in the 1920s that Jazz gained international recognition (University of North Texas, 23). The period after the World War I saw America changing from patriotism and production and focused on building a better society.

1931:- This was the period that followed after the World War II and the era between 1931-1950 was meet with changes which was reflected in the American education system. Art education played a major role in the progressive education movement as research and empirical study begun to dictate changes within the system. During this period America became immersed in its efforts to sustain democracy (University of North Texas, 31). The independent nature of democracy was defined as the foundation of creative self expression, which dominated instructional methods of that time. Leaders in art education were able to take advantage of the progressive education movement, which made art to find a place in the American education system once again. Many of the research that was carried out by individuals who impacted art education during this era is still debated and discussed even up to date.

Art education in the 1950s was greatly influenced by the global social context of that time. Sputruk inspired a push towards a curriculum that was steeped in math and science, and creative self expression was viewed as the way to increase creative thinking skills in math and sciences. During this era, several social events took place that had an impact on art in education and they included the introduction of color television, McCarthy's communist witch hunt, Brown versus Board of education and the appearance of Elvis Presley on television (University of North Texas, 38).

1960-1969:- This era was characterized by many historical events such as Vietnam war and its protests, assassination of many important figures and the burst of the entertainment and technology arenas. These historical events didn't have a direct impact on art education but art education was entering one of its most dynamic time periods. Research in art education increased dramatically and dozens of conferences and seminars were held regarding developments in art education.

1991:- Art education trends in America were seen to emerge in cycles and familiar ideas were seen to reappear with a new twist. It was observed at this point that creative self-expression, reconstructionist theory and disciplined based art education had all played a major role in the field of art education for a considerable period of time. The main concern that rose up during this time period is on how educators tech art (University of North Texas, 43).

It is hoped that the twenty-first century will resolve this conflict that has persisted for a long period of time by introducing art education theories and practices that will bring together both content and self-expression (Robinson, 7). It has been proposed that, through national school reforms and arts infusion art education has the potential of evolving into a comprehensive teaching style that reaches across disciplines which help in educating the whole child.   

Benefits of Teaching Art Subjects

There is no doubt that the benefits that come along with art education are overwhelming. Research has proven that art is among the very few disciplines that have the potential of promoting learning from the heart as well as the head and it is therefore very effective in helping the child in growing in the ever changing world. It has been seen that art education has a dual benefit in that it benefits both the student and the society (Forbes, par 6). In his book out of our mind, Sir Ken Robinson agues that the reason why we fail to get the best out of people is because we have been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers.

The writer points out that, companies all over the world are competing in a world of economical and technological change that is moving faster than ever. Due to this, they are forced to urgently seek for people who are creative, innovative and flexible. According to him, these qualities can only be natured through learning art subjects. Ken Robinson agues that organizations are facing a problem in trying to shape graduates in order for them to fit in a specific environment since most of them graduate without even having realized their potentials. He attributes this inability of students failing to realize their potential to failure of their learning institutions to create and sustain a culture that promotes creativity adding that many people miss the chance for creativity because they are not trying in the field that's natural to them (Robinson, 2).

Numerous researches have been conducted to support the benefits of studying art related subjects. It has been observed that, children who are involved in arts have well developed reasoning, intuition, sensitivity, imagination and dexterity. It has also been noted that art education help student perceive and think in new dimensions. Significantly more self-regulatory behaviors have been observed is situations where art based subjects have been integrated in the curriculum (Winner & Hetland, par 4). It has also been observed that students who undertake art subjects get better grades and scores, are less likely to drop out of school, spend less of their time on television, are less likely to report boredom in school and are more involved community work. Another observation that has been made is that the relationship between arts involvement and academic performance is robust for students from low-social-economic backgrounds. Learning art subjects has been found to provide opportunities where the students develop positive connections to school and to social networks (Bawm, & Owen, 2).

Art subjects are thought of having the potential to develop a full variety of human intelligence ranging from philosophers, educationalists and psychologists. In today's modern world, art plays an important role in the development of a range of qualities and skills with a wide application and value. These acquired skills help the individual to remain a float in a world were rate of unemployment is increasing each and every day.  The world is also made up people who have diverse cultural practices. Art has the role of expressing any type of culture from where it evolves.

This makes student understand cultural change and differences in which they are part of (Bawm, & Owen, 8s). Through learning art subjects, students acquire powerful tools which help the individual to understand human experience presently and in the past, enabling the student to work in a team work and collaboration, enabling the student to make decisions creatively in situations where no direct is provided for, allows the student to learn how to adapt to and respect other persons way of thinking, working, expressing them selves, development of powerful tools for recognizing a problem and solving it, development of the essential senses which include sight, hearing, smell, taste and  touch, development of powerful tools for analyzing nonverbal communication, increasing the ability to make informed judgment about cultural products and development of good communication skills (Cesarone, par 4).

There exists a connection between art, students and the world. Art is described as having both intrinsic and instrumental value. Art is known to play a very big role in the creation of culture and civilizations. On this line, interconnections between different disciplines in art allows for a greater out put than that obtained from a single discipline. Art is known to promote understanding in the sense that as students create dances, music, theatrical productions and visual artworks, they learn how to communicate and express themselves and by doing so they are able to comprehend things. Art has the role of adding value to an individuals daily life whether during vacation or during leisure. Persons who participate in art for a prolonged period of time during their life time can be said to have a life fully lived.

Through appreciating the work of art, one is able to understand the interactions among the various professions and roles involved in creating, performing, studying, teaching, presenting and supporting the arts. The arts enhance and sharpen an individuals' ability to inquire and express. Students studying art become acquainted with many perspectives of the meaning of "value" because art offers a continuing challenge of situation where there in no definite answer. It has also been noted that skills acquired through learning art can be used to illuminate situations in other disciplines that require critical thinking. Virtues acquired through studying art such as self discipline, collaborative spirit, perseverance can easily be incorporated to be part and parcel of an individuals' life style. Good presentation skills can be acquired through art performances since most art involves non verbal communications (Winner & Hetland, par 2).

Promoting art subjects in school

For the survival of sufficient arts education in schools, parties involved in running of the school should work together to ensure that these subjects are not scraped out of the school curriculum (Cesarone, par 3). In this effort, parents should be in the fore front in ensuring that the decision makers include arts education as part of the basic curriculum and it should be of the best quality. To achieve these, parents should:-

  • Carry out research on the issues and debates concerning arts and the facts on how the subjects will benefit the students.
  • Analyzing the existing art education curriculum for its relevancy in the education system.
  • Coming up with a parents association comprised of concerned parents who can talk to the principal to asses the status and quality of art education offered in the school.
  • Enlist the support of the local PTA in addressing the issue.
  • Consult with the state arts agency and community art leaders for any guidance and support.
  • Be active in attending school board meetings and voicing your support for the inclusion of arts in the school curriculum.
  • Advising children on the importance of studying art subjects.
  • Buying some basic equipment that will nature a talent in a child that a parent notices in a child in an early age.


As it has been discussed in the paper, it is evident that art education has countless benefits which define the future of the child. Arts are seen as a special category disciplines which are capable of cultivating emotional as well as rational thinking in an individual. It is therefore important for those persons challenging the inclusion of art education in school curriculum to stop it and start to cerebrate the numerous benefits that art has brought with it. It is worth to appreciate the efforts the government is putting in promoting art education through the No Child is Left behind Act which is really changing the overall performance of students in schools.

Art educators should also be recommended for their endless efforts in trying to see that art education remains in the education curriculum by structuring it in a manner that integrates it with other subjects in schools. It would be a general responsibility for all who see the value of art in the current generation to take part actively in ensuring that art education in taken to greater heights rather than waiting for researchers to come up with policies that justify the existence of art education in schools. Due to the many benefits that are brought about by art education, I propose that the debate of "To Be or Not To Be" should come to an end.