Creativity is an absolutely vital skill in today’s world. Together with skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and team work, creativity is constantly cited by research as being a key to success. With so much economic uncertainty, and given growing competition from around the globe, the question of equipping students with the right skills for the 21st Century is one educators and policymakers have been forced to grapple with.
Some argue that education systems should prioritise so-called ‘hard’ subjects, such as science, engineering, and maths. They believe that ‘soft’ subjects, including the arts and humanities, are somehow less useful or important. Are they right? Or could subjects such as art help to foster creative thinking in children and young people?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Christos who argues that teaching children art is vitally important because it also teaches skills like creativity. Is he right? How important is art for children’s education?
To get a response, we spoke to Susan Aykin, National Lead for Visual and Performing Arts for Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) in the UK. What does she think?
Yes, he’s absolutely right. Art is vitally important in the curriculum. And, as a quality-ensuring inspection body, we have a very strong focus, when we go into schools, at looking how broad, balanced, deep, and creative the curriculum is. So, we certainly look at the quality of the teaching of art, of dance, of drama, music, and what would traditionally be deemed ‘creative subjects’ (although all subjects are creative).
He’s absolutely right; [art] helps children to develop a knowledge, skills, and an understanding base of a particular art area, through which they can then extend their imagination and innovatively be able to create their own interpretation of the world that they inhabit, drawing on that knowledge base. So, yes, it’s absolutely important.
It’s also important in [helping] them to access other areas of the curriculum. So, for example, in art, being able to appreciate and evaluate the interpretive choices that an artist has made in the creation of whatever object they’ve created helps [children] to consider and question the interpretive choices that writers might make in books; that musicians might make in composition, or the playing of an instrument; the interpretive choices that scientists might make drawing on the research evidence that they have. So, it’s vitally important in creating a rounded human being.
For another perspective, we also put Christos’ comment to Síne Friel from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO). What would be her response?
To answer Christos’ question. Pablo Picasso famously said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ Giving children the space to create, to explore and to express themselves through art, is vitally important. Unfortunately, when curricula become overloaded, visual arts and other ‘creative’ subjects often get squeezed out or reduced in favour of more ‘test-able’ subjects. Art is an important part of an holistic education and provides a means of self-expression that words alone cannot provide.
Not all of our readers are convinced. We had a comment from Paul, for example, who says it’s useless trying to teach creativity because it’s what he calls a ‘natural talent’. He says you can teach somebody to paint in an art class, but if there is no natural talent then nothing will come of it.
How would Susan Aykin from Ofsted respond?
Well, firstly, I would say the concept of a ‘natural talent’ is debatable. Of course people may predisposed [to creative acts]; I may have a predisposition for writing fiction, for example. But where does that come from? At some stage, and in various guises, [this predisposition] has been structured and supported and developed, both within a school curriculum, but also externally. So, it isn’t necessarily the teaching of creativity as an abstract concept, but it is explicitly teaching (as we do in this country, through our really strong curriculums) the knowledge, the skills, and the understanding of discrete subjects, and through that providing a really strong foundation base through which then children and young people can begin to question and develop their own interpretations and their own influential understanding of those concepts that then informs their ability to problem solve, to take imaginative leaps, to develop their own innovative understanding of those concepts.
So, it’s important to [have] a really strong foundation in those discrete subject areas, which then helps to develop children’s innate creativity. Because, as human beings we are innately creative, and so it’s not teaching creativity; it is teaching those fundamental bodies of knowledge, skills, and understanding that then support children [to] creatively develop their own understanding and to question, and so on. So, yes, in a roundabout way, absolutely it can be taught. But through that way. So, this abstract concept of ‘creativity’ on its own, no. But through a strong education system: absolutely, it can…
Finally, what would Síne Friel from INTO have to say to Paul?
I fundamentally disagree with Paul’s comment. There are certainly artistic techniques that can be taught but to say that ‘if there is no natural talent then nothing will come of it’ takes a very narrow view of the value of art. The purpose of art in education is not, and should not be, simply to produce world-class artists, but to provide a means of exploring feelings and experiences and expressing these. This is something that every child can experience and benefit from. The value is not only in the end product, but in the process.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has written a lot about mindset and the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. The belief that creativity or artistic talent are fixed and natural traits that one is either born with or without is a limiting one. I personally believe that talents, including artistic talents can be developed, through passion and persistence. However, the production of great works of art is not, and should not be, the goal of art in education.
How important is art for children’s education? Can it teach them creativity that can be applied throughout their lives? Or is creativity a ‘natural talent’ that cannot be fostered through education? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Poznyakov
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