Excellence

“Why is it that we introduce painting and music to primary school students before they can read? The arts are a part of a universal human language, whether music, dance, drama or the physical fine arts.” (Education Horizons, p13)

A recent article, To create or not to create; is this really the question? in Education Horizons (Daniels, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2008, pp13-14) outlined the seemingly lack of importance placed in the arts in our education system. Mirrored by the lack of funding from the Ministry (MoE) and the attitudes displayed in the schools and in the curriculum, its importance is wavering; its relevance getting lost in the political agendas of various sectors of the educational system.
Often art (as in visual art) is ‘dumbed’ down as a subject. Its widely promoted as if anyone can take it at any time as a way to make up credits. Gone are the days where training to be an artist took years, even decades and the “fine art” has been lost with the dawn of modernism and mass production.
The article in question raises several valid points and speaks volumes as an argument for the importance of art, especially visual art, to be better recognized in the balance of the New Zealand education system. However it overlooks various parts of artistic practice which do align with other areas of the curriculum.

“Strive for excellence all you want. The talented students will always succeed. All I ask is that you offer the rest of us the opportunity to shine by boosting funding to the arts faculties in schools so that we can help students increase their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. We all need to lose ourselves in imagination and dreams sometimes. As wonderful as out technological world is, without human imagination and creativity, life is stilted, one dimensional and deprived of soul.” (Daniels, p14)

What this is suggesting is exactly the point I raised before. It is promoting art as a subject for those of us who aren’t so-called “academic”. But why? Why place that stereotype on the arts and use it as an argument to validate its existence in the school environment? Why suggest that there are no “talented” students in the art department; that it’s purely made up of “the rest of us”? Whilst it is more than common that art students brains are more right sided and the “academics” in Mathematics or Science who are left sided, this does not mean that students who are more creative can’t achieve excellence in their given field. They can still strive for that excellence. Place a scientist in an art department, and that same level of excellence is unlikely to be reached, just as an art student could struggle to reach the same levels in science if the roles were to be reversed.
The reason this type of reasoning falls apart is because art is subjective, the work produced often is a result of a process that is explored, rather than a right or wrong answer at the end of the day. The science buff is able to complete an artwork, and although it may not be highly skilled or technically accurate, the process leads to a result that is considered as art, and the level of excellence is only relevant to that student.
In my opinion, and it is only that, is that there are students who achieve to a high degree of excellence in art. That does not mean they are mediocre students or that they aren’t talented. Students who take art are still able to succeed and produce excellent work, and can be “academics” in their own field. I think that the article itself seemed to be making an excuse for not reaching excellence, rather than outlining the fact that there is still excellence in every subject area, and art is no different.

Daniels, R. (2008) To create or not to create; is this really the question? In Education Horizons; Journal of Excellence in Teaching, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2008.

‘Till next time…