Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Value of Art

In our American culture when schools are suffering economic hardship the arts are the first programs to be cut. Why? Obviously, society sees the arts as having little value. Is this really true or are our leaders and politicians mistaken? I believe they are wrong but go figure, I’m an artist, and what am I going to think?

In reality, I have seen many articles over the last couple of decades that speak to the importance of having the arts as part of the core curriculum. Studies have shown that when music and art are included, math and science scores go up. . Years ago, elementary school teachers found that if they softly played Mozart in the background, students learned arithmetic more quickly and retained what they learned. What was it about art and music that caused this to happen?

We know that the two halves of the brain have different functions. The left side is the logical side and this controls math, science, and language. The right side is the intuitive side. This is where art and music like to hang out. The left side is the dominant side and just can’t stand not being in control. When I teach drawing, I give students exercises that help them to turn off the left side of the brain. Actually it teaches them how to frustrate the left side and cause it to give up control to the right side. What is happening in the brain is more important than just the fluff stuff that most people see as being art. The person moves closer to being a whole brain thinker and effectively using more of the brain. The brain becomes more creative in solving problems. When Albert Einstein would be having difficulty with an equation, he would sit in a corner and play his violin. In the darkest days of WWII, Sir Winston Churchill would sit out in his garden and paint landscapes.

Our earliest ancestors, while still living in caves, made art well before they developed a written language. Even today children with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are taught rhythm, movement, and song to help them to learn and understand. Children are still taught the alphabet by learning a song, the infamous alphabet song. Rituals and story telling were used for millenniums to help cultures to learn and understand their histories. Yet today, our culture persists in devaluing the arts, unless of course you are a rich and famous artist, musician, actor, or whatever. As the old saying goes, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” So does art really talk?

Years ago I gave a series of talks to civic organizations on the value of art the need for the community to foster the growth of the arts. I approached it from an economic point of view. One of my favorite examples was the difference between East and West Berlin (if you are post Reagan-Gorbechev you may not remember this). East Berlin was very oppressive to the arts (art, music, literature, theater, etc.) and the city was very gray and lifeless. It struggled economically. On just the other side of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin encouraged and embraced the arts. The city was colorful and alive and the citizens of the city embraced creativity. The result was a city that was innovative and had a healthy and robust economy. What causes this difference?

What happens is something that is very dangerous and it causes world governments to shake and tremble with fear. The arts encourage people to see things in new and different ways. People and things are no longer taken for granted. New possibilities arise. In other words, people learn how to think not what to think. Knowing how to think (and solve problems) gives true power to every person. Thomas Jefferson once said that an educated population could govern itself.

An accidental footnote. My van has been sold as scrap, it was beyond repair. The young man who caused the accident ran the stop sign because he was playing with his iPod. After a few days of ranting and raving, I have gone through my grieving process and moved on. I survived a deadly crash and did not even have a scratch on me. Amazingly I did not have a single bruise nor even suffer a stiff or sore muscle. My life has been changed by not having a vehicle but change is a good thing.

The above painting is an oil pastel on sealed and primed Strathmore paper. The title is “Stream Through The Tall Grasses Version 03”. It measures 14.625” X 10.25” and was completed in 2005.


Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Lovin' the post, and the incandescent art.

My $0.02? It's like art is at the top of ol' Maslow's hierarchy, and when times are tough conventional wisdom says we all need to drop down away from self-actualization into survival. As if these things are mutually exclusive.

Arts education is cut because people either:
Don't "get" the pragmatic, day-to-day value of creativity
Think art is decor, and think decor is not what people need for daily living
Most cynically/benightedly -- understand the value of creativity for forming independent minds and do not want schools to help develop such

7:18 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

well said, Lori!

7:29 AM  
Blogger Lisa Call said...

I think a related issue is the recent trend in forcing professors to spend more time
teaching. The general public doesn't put much value into research for the pure sake of
research and can't understand why a well paid professor at a state run university is not
in the classroom teaching all day long. So they legislate ridiculous teaching loads.

When a society loses focus on the things that, in the long run, help that society move
forward (be it art, music or scientific research) I feel there isn't much hope for the

On a smaller scale. I'm watching google (the company) with a lot of interest. Right now
their engineers are allowed to "experiement" about 20% of their time. They get to try
out new ideas and play (and be creative). As a result I suspect google will stay at the
top of the heap as a software company, continueing to innovate and expand.

I worked at IBM research back in the late 80s - when IBM was at the top of the heap -
they had 2 research labs for pure research - they paid the top of the top to innovate
with no expecation of tangible results.

But the economy was bad and research was really hit hard, the researchers were expected
to actually produce products. Many top people left, some started collaborating with
development. It was no longer pure research by the best people in the industry.

I'm not surprised to see IBM has lost the leading edge.

Okay I know this isn't exactly related. But, well, I guess I think it is.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Tracy Helgeson said...

Ed, doesn't your insurance some of the costs of the van since it was totaled? So that you could get another one at least.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Lisa, a very nice rant, thank you. Also, most people don't realize that only 50% of faculty are full time and the rest are adjuncts running back and forth between 2-3 schools just trying to earn a living. Everything today is about the bottom line.

Hi Tracy, Michigan is a No-Fault state which basically means I'm screwed. The most I can get is $500.00 by filing a mini-torte against the other driver's insurance. Even if I had full coverage, my insurance company would've totaled the vehicle because of the age and cost to repair it and maybe would've given me low blue-book.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Lesly said...

Interesting post, again, Ed. Love to listen to you guys discuss ... always a pleasure. And I love to look at your paintings too, of course.

my own thoughts about the arts, education and human potential ... I continue to be completely astounded by the wonderful creatitivity to be found in people, and often in those who say that they have no artistic leanings. They grow wonderful gardens, they make arresting flower arrangements, their homes show unique ability in interior design, they sing beautifully,they make their own greetings cards, soft furnishings, are avid theatre goiers, etc, etc. The list is endless.

A neighbour where I used to live decided to go to a quilting class ... she is now designing her own unique projects, yet she used to say that she hadn't an ounce of imagination in her body!

So often people do not realise their potential for creativity until they are in their retirement years ....what a crying shame that is.

But all the while "monetary value" remains the yardstick of worth I am afraid that 'the arts' will be seen by many as having little importance.

Of course, as artists we see it very differently!

10:05 PM  
Blogger amber said...

It's unfortunate your insurrance can't help more
good topic I ask myself the "Big" question all time
Is art really that important It doesn't save lives
It doesn't protect people
Sometimes I think It's a self indulgent indevor,but then my right brain says mmm why is itthen the most priceless objects are usually objets d'art
Art is what makes culture (all forms)It brings people happiness somethings outside their normal working lives (something that can speak to them on a human level)
Whether it be taught in schools or not there will always be art
Funny thing, since I've been making art I can see colors I never saw before, I hear sounds in music i could not before my heart can speak to mind like it has learned a new language Which is hard to describe
I know that I am not alone in these sensations
It is by example from other artist and by viewing or hearing that we become educated
This is how I know that art matters

10:52 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Hi Lesly, I agree with your ideas of creativity. At a certain point, in school, nuturing creativity is put aside in favor of memorizing facts and figures. A theologian friend once told me that God is creative and if we are created in God's image then we must be creative, also.

Hi Amber, maybe art is self indulgent but then it speaks to the emotional/spiritual side of humans. I once read that the greater the intellectual ability of a culture is, the greater the need for them to play. Intellectual achievement and play (like the arts) go hand in hand.

5:15 PM  
Blogger The Epiphany Artist said...

I love reading the posts after your posters post :) I am basically a lurker! Gorgeous painting by the way AS Always! Real artists always end up doing what comes naturally with out the help of schools. I cant help but wonder if the famous old masters had art classes in junior high or if they just did it.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

You are a man after my own heart Ed. I am a big critic of the so-called education system that seems to be based on churning out functionaries rather than free thinkers. It is of course the free thinkers that had the ideas that created industry in the first place.

I think politicians need to be reminded of this and the economic value of the arts (they are probably more interested in the latter). In Europe, for example the arts in general contribute more to the GDP than car manufacturing. So even from a business pont fo view it is a BIG mistake to think the arts can be dropped from the school agenda.

1:31 AM  

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