Let’s get rid of Art Education in schools.

Art, they say, is great for kids. Art and music programs help keep them in school, make them more committed, enhance collaboration, strengthen ties to the community and to peers, improve motor and spatial and language skills. A study by the College Board showed that students who took four years of art scored 91 points better on the SAT exams. At-risk students who take art are significantly more likely to stay in school and ultimately to get college degrees.

Awesome.

Nonetheless, arts education has been gutted in American public schools. A decade ago, the No Child Left Behind and Common Core programs prioritized science and math over other subjects. In LA County alone, 1/3 of the arts teachers were let go between 2008 and 2012 and, for half of K-5 students, art was cut all together.

After the recession of 2008, 80% of schools had their budget cut further. Arts programs were the first victims. And, predictably, lower income and minority students were the most likely to lose their art programs. Only 26.2% of African-American students have access to art classes. As the economy has improved, there is some discussion about reversing some of these cuts. But it is not enough.

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IMG_2467 They don’t need to be taught to be creative!

I’m no expert on education but I have spent a lot of time in school art programs over the past year.

In the lower grades, kids just have fun drawing and painting. They don’t really need much encouragement or instruction. In middle school, the majority start to lose their passion for making stuff and instead learn the price of making mistakes. Art class is all too often a gut, an opportunity for adolescents to screw around. By high school, they have been divided into a handful who are ‘artsy’ and may go onto art school and a vast majority who have no interest in art at all.

In short, every child starts out with a natural interest in art which is slowly drained — until all that’s left is a handful of teens in eyeliner and black clothing whose parents worry they’ll never move out of the basement.

Here’s a modest proposal: Let’s take the “art” out of “art education.”

“Art” is not respected in this country. It’s seen as frivolity, an indulgence, a way to keep kids busy with scissors and paste. “Art” is an elitist luxury that hard-nosed bureaucrats know they can cut with impunity. And so they do, making math and science the priority to fill the  ranks of future bean-counters and pencil pushers.

So I propose we get rid of art education and replace it with something that is crucial to the future of our world: creativity.

We need to all be creative in ways that we never could be before. We have so many wonderful tools that put the power of creation in our hands and we use them every day. Solving problems, using tools, collaborating, expressing our ideas clearly, being entrepreneurial and resourceful, these are the skills that will mattering the 21-century, post-corporate, labor market. Instead of being defensive about art, instead of talking about culture and self-expression, we have to focus on the power of creativity and the skills required to develop it. A great artist is also a problem solver, a presenter, an entrepreneur, a fabricator, and more.

Imagine if Creativity became a part of our core education…

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High schoolers develop a creative solution together.

Instead of teaching kids to paint bowls of fruit with tempera, we’d show them how to communicate a concept through a sketch, how to explore the world in a sketchbook, how to generate ideas, how to solve real problems. Theatre would be all about collaboration, presentation and problem solving. Music classes would emphasize creative habit, teamwork, honing skills, composition, improvisation.

We’d teach creative process, how to come up with ideas, how to find inspiration, how to steal from the greats. We’d teach kids to work effectively with others to improve and test their ideas. We’d teach them how to realize their ideas, get them executed through a supply chain, how to present and market and share them.

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Middle schoolers discussing a story through sketches.

We’d also emphasize digital creativity, focussing on cutting edge (and cheap) technology, removing the artificial divide between arts and science, showing how engineering and sculpture are related, how drawing and User Experience (UX) Design are facets of the same sort of skills, how music and math mirror each other. We’d teach kids how to use Photoshop to communicate concepts, to shoot and cut videos, to design presentations, to use social media intelligently, to write clearly because it is key to survival. We’d give kids destined for minimum wage jobs a chance to be entrepreneurial, to create true economic power for themselves, by developing their creativity and seeing opportunity in a  whole new way.

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IMG_3485 Here’s what 100 8th graders collaborating looks like.

Yes, I know that there are high-school video classes and art computer labs, but they need to be turned into engines for creativity and usefulness, not abstract, high falutin’ artsiness based on some 1970s concepts of self-expression. Don’t make black and white films about leaves reflected in puddles, make a video to promote adoption at the local animal shelter. Don’t do laborious charcoal drawings of pop stars, generate ideas on paper. Fill 100 post-its with 100 doodles of ways to raise consciousness about the environment or income inequality or saving water. Stop making pinch pots and build a 3-D printer and turn out artificial hands for homeless amputees.

(And, by the way,  if we teach kids loads of math and science but don’t encourage their creativity, they aren’t going to grow up to be great engineers and scientists and inventors and discoverers — just drones and dorks.)

Creativity is not a ghetto, not a clique, not something to be exercised alone in a garret. It’s also not a freakshow of self-indulgent divas and losers.

Creativity is about helping to solve the world’s many problems. We need to make sure that the kids of today (who will need to be the creative problem solvers of tomorrow) realize their creative potential and have the tools to use them. That matters far more than football team and standardized test scores.

What do you think?


Related Post: How to make anything

Why men don’t take art classes.

For a while, I have been wondering why the art conferences at which I speak are filled with women. Why most of the commenters on this blog are women. Why Jack’s class at RISD is predominantly female. Why the students of Sketchbook Skool are about 85% women.

Where are the men?

Certainly men seem to like to make art as much as women do. Half of the SBS fakulty are male. The museums and galleries I visit are full of work by men. In fact, women have long complained that the art world seems biased against them.

So what is it about art education that seems more interesting to women than men?I searched the web for answers. There weren’t many categorical ones but here are some of the clues I picked up.

In 2007, the NY Times had an article about why adult classes of all sorts seem much more popular with women. Tennis classes. Writer’s classes. Triathlon classes. All were 65-95% women. Here’s what a man who teaches wine tasting said of his students: “It’s argued that women are better tasters of wine than men. A higher percentage of women have more taste-bud receptors.” So maybe they are getting more out of the class. But, echoing others who lead classes, he added: “It may also come down to the fact that men think they know more about wine anyway, so they don’t need to learn more about it.”

In other words, men know more. Or think they do. No need to take classes. Why admit you are ignorant?

Is it that simple? Men go to golf pros. They read business books. They take coding classes. Maybe art classes teach skills that don’t seem concrete or finite enough for men? Do men just need more goal- rather than process- oriented activities?

I have also been following a heated debate on Reddit (where all debates are heated) about why there are so many more successful male artists than females. Here’s are some highlights.

One theory is about marketing, that male artists are more into promoting themselves than women.

“In my experience the successful artists are the ones who concentrate their time about half on the art and half on the selling of the art. …That is selling paintings, building relationships with patrons of the arts, raising money for their dance/theater/etc. company, writing grant proposals to non-profits etc. 

“…perhaps men are more drawn to the concrete and the rational and less to the expressive and emotional. This keeps them away from art statistically but those who do get into art spend more of their time with the rational part of marketing art and less with the expressive side or art. This may actually be the more important part of becoming a successful artist.”

And self-promotion is not encouraged in women:

“When you look at hugely successful female artists they are generally the ones that market themselves well and are obsessive about selling their art. However, women who promote themselves and their work intensely are often seen as ruthless social climbers.”

Another argument: Art is less practical so women can afford to indulge in it more than men.

“At the university level, women are more free to pursue educational interests without as much criticism. When a guy takes an art class, he’s usually expected to come up with a practical application of it as a justification. Anytime a show wants to make a joke about a father worried about a grown son’s directionlessness, they’ll say the son is studying some art/humanities degree, like dance, or theater, or English.

(But as you can see in the chart above, there are loads of men in ‘impractical’ fields like philosophy and classics too).

“when a woman cooks, it is her duty. When a man cooks, he is an artist.”

Or is it just that women aren’t valued for what they do — and so neither is their art? In fact, as Richard Florida’s research on creative professionals has shown, women earn about 40% less than men do in creative class employment. I’m not sure if the situation is as imbalanced in all skill professions.

A poster on Reddit says: “Women’s work isn’t valued on a ‘profound’ level in the same way that men’s is. The perfect example is cooking. Cooking is seen as a woman’s task, but the vast majority of celebrity chefs are men. Of the female celebrity chefs, how many are really valued for their ‘greatness’ vs. how many are famous for showing you quick and convenient ways to cook at home? In other words, how often do we talk about women’s Michelin stars?”

“….I always think of the quote, “when a woman cooks, it is her duty. When a man cooks, he is an artist.”

Another says that women’s art tends to be ghettoized:

“I don’t know enough about the art or cooking world to judge whether it’s because the stuff that women are creating doesn’t push creative limits enough to warrant that kind of recognition. What I do know is that in the fiction and poetry industries, women are expected to write in certain niches. Maybe a small portion of their work will transcend those niches, but they are rarely able to make an entire career out of writing the same stuff men write about, even if the quality is comparable. ….”

What do you think is behind the disparity? Why don’t men take art classes? And why, despite all those workshops and classes and conferences, aren’t women equally represented in the contemporary art world?

Update:  it’s not just America. 

Sketchbook Skool Update: Danny & Koosje

We’re just a little over a month from the first day of Sketchbook Skool.  Every week or so, we’re going to do a little Skype chat with one or another of our teachers about what’s coming up and what they have planned for their klasses.  Here’s the first one in which I tell Koosje what I have in store for you.

If you’re having a problem watching this on an iPad or Mac, please make sure you have updated your system. There was a very important update from Apple today that protects your security. I urge you to make sure your system is current.  That may not be the cause of the problem with this video, but I have tested it on an updated iPad and a Powerbook and it is fine.

Teaching

post-it-party-thumbFor the first time, I am teaching a regular class on sketchbook journaling and, it is some thing I really look forward to each week. I have an awful lot of students (25 or so) and our classroom is a less than inspiring place, but each Tuesday night we talk about drawing and journaling and the wide world of art, then we draw and write together for a couple of hours. Many of the folks in class are new to drawing but all are plunging in with courage and enthusiasm. Some have become instant sketchbook addicts, while others are still hanging around the shallow end, getting their bearings. This week, one of our exercises was to break an object into abstract parts and explore each one deeply. I then combined all of the individual drawings and revealed what we had been looking at collectively: a picture of our new President-elect. There was wild applause and excitement when the group mind came together. Teaching a class is forcing me to really think about what drawing is and how to communicate what I have taught myself over the years. It is is very challenging but the support and pleasure of my students inspires me mightily.

ImageIronically, this morning I was called out by a professional art teacher, here on my blog, who questioned whether I was disrespectful of art education. I hastened to explain:
Hi Danny. The book looks great, but I have to admit, upon viewing the little videomercial, despite the beautiful imagery, I was a bit turned off by what I perceived as a slight jab to my profession . As an art educator, I work my butt off day in day out turning kids onto art. The smiles on their faces when they enter the art room say it all. Their work says even more. I know too many good folks who are on the same boat as me who would feel the same. Am I overreacting here, or being slightly too sensitive? Maybe so. Still, in these trying times, when school budgets are getting cut left and right, and art educators (or,as we called them back in the day, art teachers) are either finding themselves out of a job, or not being able to find a job, the last thing we need is someone dissing art education. I’ll certainly buy the book – how could I resist something this good? Still, please talk me down and tell me why I’m getting my panties in a bundle over a tiny, little sentence (or don’t waste your time on me at all).
Steve

Dear Steve:
I hear you. Let me unravel my thoughts. First of all, I believe art education is vital to both children and adults. My son goes to a high school that specializes in art education and he takes two hours a day (!) of drawing classes. We have put him in several summer and after-school classes to develop his love of art too. So, I am all for art education … when it is done well.
I was deeply scarred by my art teacher’s abusive and derisive comments when I was a boy. I receive so many emails and letters form people who had similarly traumatic experiences when they were young too, dismissive or overly rigid teachers who made them feel they could never draw, would never amount to anything. These teachers are the exceptions in a profession that takes a lot of self-sacrifice and commitment, besieged from all sides by budgets and support for the football team.
So, while I do not diss art education in general, there are without question times when it is poorly taught. A bad teacher might be careless with comments, or overly programatic and rigid, or create a negative environment. There are people who are second rate in all professions but the ones who are incompetent or indifferent at art education can have long and deep impact on the very people who come to my site and books looking for a way to repair their creative instincts.
I realize that this may not be the answer you sought. But please know that a) my book contains work from fantastic several art educators (Rama Hughes, Roz Stendahl, Kate Johnson, Brody Neunschwander, Kurt Hollomon, Gay Kraeger, Christina Lopp, and more) and b) that I consider much of my mission to teach people to teach themselves art so I am also a sort of an art educator ( In fact, I am currently teaching a class here in New York).
And finally, Steve, I am often careless myself in the way I express myself here and elsewhere. I appreciate the rebuke, gentle though it was, and the opportunity to clarify.
I hope you enjoy An Illustrated Life: and that it brings ideas and inspiration to you and your students.

Your pal,
Danny Gregory

ImageI hope this seems like a fair and valid answer. I really don’t want to add art educators to the long list of people I piss off.

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jack-shoes.jpg Speaking of insanely great art teachers and students, here’s a drawing Jack did in class last week. ImageSeveral of the students in the class have been blogging about their experiences on Tuesday evenings. Check out Seth’s first hand reports.