What Use Are the Arts? It is an age-old question.
The arts are important in themselves. They uniquely express ideas and feelings. They affect us intellectually and emotionally. They challenge, unsettle, inspire and delight.
Since the earliest days, humans have also found the arts useful: they've been expressions of the sacred or records of earliest historical memory, for example. And at least since the Age of Reason, there's been debate about whether the arts have a moral, improving, function or whether people can learn creativity through the "doing" of art.
More recent theorists propose that the arts can be useful because they are an alternate way of experiencing and knowing. Painting or playing an instrument don't necessarily cause one to be creative in math (although some studies do find correlations between mathematical and artistic creativity). Rather, the arts are a particularly potent medium for teaching certain skills and knowledge: the capacity to look deeply, to see patterns, to make connections or create meaning, for instance.
- The arts develop knowledge of our own and other cultures (May, Music of Many Cultures; Benton and DiYanni, Arts and Culture).
- The arts can be used to develop higher order thinking skills (Eisner, Arts and the Creation of Mind).
- The arts promote collaboration and teamwork (Pink, A Whole New Mind).
- The arts develop the intrinsic rewards of learning and promote a love of learning (Sir Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds: How to Be Creative; In The Element).
- The arts allow teachers to reach students with a range of learning styles (Gardner, Frames of Mind; Multiple Intelligences; Five Minds for the Future).
- Interdisciplinary connections among the arts and other disciplines lead uniquely to deep learning (Gardner, Pink, Robinson).
- The deep, authentic, participatory learning the arts promote has a positive backwash effect on learning in other disciplines (Rabkin and Redmond, Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education for the 21st Century).