By: Claire Bahorski
April 5th, 2022
For many, art is an escape and a way to express themselves. It also is a creative outlet for people of all ages. Alongside other school curriculum, art is an important part of a child’s development, and being able to use it as an emotional release can be vital in early childhood.
PBS states the importance of the creative process, which can “acknowledge and celebrate children’s uniqueness and diversity as well as offer excellent opportunities to personalize our teaching and focus on each child.” When this creativity is fostered, it can also promote a child’s social development. Creative freedom allows children to develop their own personalities and unique sense of self.
Psychologically, creativity can help with mental growth by challenging a child’s equality, balance, spatial relationships and problem-solving. It can also aid in developing individuality and self-confidence; when children feel good about what they create, they will feel good about themselves.
Besides aiding in mental growth, art also helps children overcome traumatic events they have experienced. Psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry’s studies reveal that “areas of the brain can be reshaped and reorganized through activities that include touch and movement—the foundation of creative expression. Just as trauma is experienced—through nonverbal sensation—it can be released.” Despite trauma being a difficult subject to maneuver, especially with children, using art can pinpoint exactly what a child is feeling or trying to say.
Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist, researched early childhood cognitive development. His article Imagination and Creativity in Childhood takes a close look at how imagination helps children. His research supports the idea that creativity can help children develop and mature.
“One of the most important areas of child and educational psychology is the issue of creativity in children, the development of this creativity and its significance to the child’s general development and maturation,” Vygotsky wrote. “A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired. He combines them and uses them to construct a new reality, one that conforms to his own needs and desires.”
Art benefits mental health in other ways. For example, as many students’ mental wellbeing declined during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, art therapy grew in popularity as a way to take care of mental health. According to Brittany Harker Martin, an associate professor of leadership, policy and governance at the University of Calgary, art therapy uses “arts-based techniques (like painting, dancing and role play) as evidence-based interventions for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.”
The arts can also help children and teens in their core curriculum classes. Learning disciplined skills increases a student’s self-assurance, patience and willingness to practice. Through art, they have the chance to learn perseverance. Neil Swapp, the music department chair at the New Mexico School for the Arts, said students learn how to balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as they see how their hard work is connected to reaching their artistic goals.
Receiving an art education has been proven to help students perform better in math, reading and writing, according to the Arts Education Partnership. Their study also found students involved in the arts could better organize their writing and were more skilled at problem solving. Some behavioral benefits to the arts in education are fewer reported behavioral incidents and better school attendance, according to the same study.
Just as creativity is important in young children, it is also beneficial to middle and high schoolers. Their brains are still developing, and they need creative outlets. Many students in high school are not interested in making careers out of the core curriculum that is enforced on them. Oftentimes, many students who are viewed as unintelligent or lazy are not given the opportunity to excel in what they are truly gifted in. Having arts programs available to older students allows them to showcase other talents and skills besides academics.
Many schools do not value art education or have to prioritize other subjects due to limited funding. In most cases, school districts elevate “core” curriculum, such as math or science. Test performances are prioritized above giving students a creative outlet. Even teachers who know that the arts are vital to a child’s development are encouraged to “act against their better judgment because their salaries and career prospects have been set by how students score on tests. In extreme cases, schools can be shuttered as a penalty for bad scores,” said education writer Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.
Jobs in the arts can hold similar value to careers in STEM. But, with the majority of schools’ money going toward STEM classes, there is little opportunity for students interested in the arts to cultivate their talents and prepare for the future. In the past, some principals have even used their arts funding toward “non-arts” purposes within the school.
Being creative and having the opportunity to make art is vital in cognitive, emotional and mental growth. Arts education must be promoted, and children should be encouraged to express themselves through art. The benefits of art can help in all areas of life. Art programs and their benefits are worth fighting for, and children of all backgrounds should be able to reap the benefits art can provide.
Claire Bahorski is a senior at Michigan State University majoring in human capital and society and humanities pre-law with concentrations in history, law and professional writing. She works at The Cube as part of the Office of the Provost communications team. She hopes to continue to strengthen her writing skills throughout her time with The Current and continue developing as a writer and editor.