Posted on 08/31/2017 at 09:39 AM by Blog Experts

Sir Ken Robinson was the keynote speaker at the Summer 2017 Art Ed Now Conference. His topic was “The Importance of Art Teachers”. I have summarized his keynote speech here.

When he was 14, he had to make a choice about his focus—every child in his school had to do that at age 14. He wanted to choose art, but his family wanted him to study German. His advisor, too, recommended he study German, as “German is more useful.” The implication was that art was less useful or not useful.

School subjects are implicitly divided into two main headings: Useful and not useful. The arts, unfortunately often fall under the label as not useful or less useful. And even in the fine arts there is a hierarchy: art and music are more important than dance and theatre.

We’re trying to add the arts into STEM, but we should really overhaul the entire curriculum and think about the importance of the arts and how they enhance and enrich the total curriculum. This message still must make its way into mainstream education. There are a lot of false distinctions in education and that’s because we teach through the lens of our subject matter. Yet all the subjects speak differently to each child. They need all of them. Because of the way we do school, we distort the hierarchy of the subjects.

If someone has an interest in art, no matter where it starts, it should be cultivated and built upon, even if the gateway is color by number painting. Students can learn about mixing paints, about perspective, and about values from color by number painting. Teachers can encourage or discourage kids by the lift of an eyebrow. When a teacher told Robinson he was wasting his time in doing painting by number, he put it away and never did another. Yet Robinson felt he was learning things about painting that would have helped him in painting his own landscapes.

Communicating and thinking visually is an inherent part of being a human being. Every culture has thought visually. We’re surrounded with visual stimulation. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to defend the arts—their importance should be self-evident. Elegance and beauty are inherent truths of mathematics. How does this differ from the arts? Visual art is highly dependent on mathematics and many other disciplines. The more we can make connections and show common purposes, the better off our students will be as their understanding will be enhanced.

When young children are born, they are born with endless potential. Children live and learn in the company of other people. Education isn’t just a process of training. What people do with their lives is a function of what they’re doing right now. What we should be doing in education is providing opportunities for growth—not just instruction and skills--it’s about keeping students’ curiosity alive. And one way to do this is through the fine arts!

This recording was aired through the 2017 Summer Art Ed Now online conference, August 3, 2017. The Art of Ed site can be found here: https://www.theartofed.com/.

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