I read a Letter to the Editor in my local paper yesterday. The headline caught my eye: "Arts essential to a solid education." Right on, I thought. After qualifying herself as a college student (major in English and a minor in education), the author went on to report that some of the local high schools are cutting back and arts classes are on the chopping block. I then read with pleasure when she said:
The arts, like core classes, are essential to student’s development. Public school is a place to grow and develop into who one wants to be. That person may be an artist or a musician. To consider these classes as "excess" is simply unacceptable.
Hear, hear. I couldn't agree more. But then the author's letter gets a bit funny... in a sad and misguided way:
As a student, my art and music classes were my only real break during the day. So often, lunch had to be used as additional study time. I felt as though the only places I was able to relax were art and choir. Had these programs not been available to me, I feel, my studies would have suffered greatly.
Say what?!?! This is where people get it completely wrong. Art is NOT play time. Although it exercises a different part of the brain and is taught in a different manner than "core" classes, art is a serious and challenging course of study.
Why this concept frustrates me so much is that I have been more and more aware of how the general public views the role of art in their community. Everyone thinks it is necessary, but, all too often the underlying attitude I hear is that art is free. Art is not free! Professional artists work hard every day to create beautiful and meaningful things; and their skills are developed at an early age – in our schools. The value of a piece of art is so much more than the materials it is made of. When you see, admire and enjoy a piece of art there needs to be an understanding that a gifted artist has worked very hard to give you that moment of pleasure.
Schools should not be cutting their art classes (or their gym classes either), but not because these classes offer students a deserved break in their day. Art is an important element to every student's education and personal development. It should be fostered and each student should be required to work at it - just like math, English, science, etc. Art is not easy, and art is not free.