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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13 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Josh

    Completely critical. Maths and English give you the tools to make a living; art gives you a reason to live. If we don’t go above and beyond educating children merely to a direct end of employment, we’re failing them.

    • avatar
      Matej

      It’s more than that. Subjects like maths focus on the logical pathways of a childs mind while various arts focus on the abstract. This will later dictate how they function as an adult

    • avatar
      Lina

      Matej exactly. Art allows you the fundamental skill to make sense of the world using spectrum-thinking. I do not agree with anyone who says maths is logic and art is humanities. On a low level these subjects appear very different, but on a high level these subjects are incredibly similar attacking problemsolving through vastly different methods

  2. avatar
    Deirdre

    Art should be the primary subject in primary schools,there are art programmes that are designed to encourage and advance even reading skills,which in turn promotes learning. Why do we adults think that the best way for children to learn is the system we have in our schools. Watch children at play, they use imagination and creativity, imagine how happy children would be to go to school if they were going to spend their time creating and using their immignation. Any teacher will tell you that the children learn by doing a project on a set topic, they not only learn they even pour endless energy into this creative project and take immense pride in the project. Unfortunately on average there is only one such project per year in our current school system. The question is why do we ignore what comes natural to children. Understanding that art is simply a creative expression, and has nothing to do with creating what some believe to be a perfect art piece.

  3. avatar
    Una

    I totally agree with you Josh as a retired Mental Health Practioneer I used all of the Creative arts in my Work.Creativity Helps bring smiles to people’s faces.Once you have a smile it is easier to help people communicate with others.Everybody is Creative its just finding what you are good at and working on that.To me The Arts should be the most important subjects that are taught.At sixty three as an Emerging Abstract Artist I am the happiest I have been in my life.So work with a childs Creativity and you will set them up for life.

  4. avatar
    Anne

    Why is there even a debate about this ? I am an artist and a teacher and see every day the how much we need to bring art into our daily lives. Part of the problem as I see it a lot of art education is passive and about dead artist instead of exploring and creating.

  5. avatar
    Olivier

    It s not a relevant issue for EU

  6. avatar
    Róbert

    Art is a human need. People are willing to pay to satisfy that need, so it’s pretty important to develop children’s taste of good art. It’ll make the future adults life more fulfilling and happy, and that’s the ultimate goal of a good society.

  7. avatar
    Jo

    My girls learnt via art and play when they first went to school in Australia. I was sad to see how different and rigid the PS education is in Ireland. Hardly any art or music and too much stress put on kids who weren’t ready to learn the 3 Rs and do endless home work.

  8. avatar
    Jo

    Anne. I’m really sad to see how the leaving cert art seems to focus a lot on art history and appreciation. Some kids will get low grades as a consequence. Some kids are just so corrective and have lower capacity to meet academic success which is so disheartening.

  9. avatar
    Annette

    There might be kids who hate art like some hate sports no interest or other subjects you can’t force a child to do something they don’t want to do

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