I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. I’ve never felt comfortable using the word to describe myself: artist. The name only seems fitting for people whose art hangs in museums or costs thousands of dollars. But when I think about all the art teachers I’ve had, or my mother or my grandmother, I want to call them artists; they’ve created their entire lives so they must be. I’ve been making art since I learned to hold a crayon in my hand.
I am an artist.
A few months ago, I heard a guy in my English class casually say, “I don’t understand why we’re required to take an art class in college. I’m majoring in statistics. I won’t learn anything useful in an art class.”
I replied, “You’re not serious, are you?”
“Uh yeah, it’s a waste of time when I could be taking more math courses. You don’t learn anything in art classes unless you like art,” he said as he turned in his chair to face me.
Knowing I wasn’t going to change his mind, I just said, “An art class isn’t supposed to teach you things. It’s supposed to teach you how to see things. It’ll make you a better statistician.”
He scoffed and turned to talk to someone else.
In an effort to prove the guy from my English class wrong, and everyone who doesn’t think art is useful, I want to talk about art. I want to talk about how an art class is one of the best classes you can take. I want to talk about how persuasive and meaningful art can be. Art and artists are undervalued and underappreciated in our world, even though art is one of the most powerful forms of communication.
Art Is Storytelling
Art is a form of storytelling. Through art people can view stories of the past, present, and future. Art tells stories through the illustrations in children’s books to the costumes and set design in your favorite movie on Netflix. In “The Role of Storytelling in the Visual Arts” in Medium, Troy Camplin says, “Once upon a time, the majority of humanity was illiterate. Yet, it was important to pass on the cultural stories. You had your storytellers, true, but people are very visual creatures […] humans often told their stories visually, whether on ancient vases, sculptures, or paintings.” Art has always been one of the most powerful forms of storytelling, and it can help us understand historic events of the past.
Afzal Ibrahim elaborates on this point in “What is Art? Why is Art Important?” from The Artist: “In fact, it can be said that if it weren’t for art, our history, culture, and traditions would be in more danger of being forgotten than they already are.” Literature can inform us of history and culture, but so much of our history is ingrained in our visual art.
Art Is Empowerment
Art empowers people. It explains emotions that can’t be explained with words. In recent years, art therapy has become a tool for people with mental health problems and psychological disorders. In “How Art Therapy Is Used to Help People Heal” in Verywell Mind, Kendra Cherry says, “Art therapy is a therapeutic technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being. Art […] is used to help people explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills.” Art is an expressive medium; it helps people communicate and handle stress or anxiety.
Additionally, art is a compelling form of activism. Art can convey changes we want to see in the world. For example, the thousands of protest signs seen at rallies are a kind of art activism. In “Louder Than Words: How Art Serves As A Form Of Activism” from Marquette Wire, Noelle Douglass discusses art and interviews people who have created art for social change. She says, “The ability of art to inspire activism and understanding is seen in the stories of many different artists and social advocates […] ‘The exhibit is about the power of images to construct narrative,’ Layden says. ‘Images tell stories, and people make meaning from those stories, but that meaning isn’t fixed.’”
Art created in the interest of social change forces people to change their perspective. Art appeals to pathos in viewers because there’s a kind of raw truth present in any kind of art used for activism.
Art is Everyone
Our popular culture is defined by our art and our artists. Art connects us and makes the globe smaller; it makes us feel united.
In times of crisis or uncertainty, the world turns to art to express emotion and convey history in a way words can’t. Although many things have been canceled and banned during the COVID-19 pandemic, art is stronger and more present than ever. All forms of art are uplifting spirits during quarantine, even music, television, and movies. In “How Art Can Soothe Us During Times of Crisis,” a clip during PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff says, “In these trying times, people are creatively using the arts, like song, to come together, even in the face of social distancing. It is a reminder of the power of humanity even during hardship.”
A.O. Scott talks about art connecting the world during crisis in an article from The New York Times called “What Happens When We Lose The Art That Brings Us Together?” He says, “Art is a way of knowing, of seeing and feeling […] It makes us witnesses and participants in the crossing of those frontiers, and in doing so makes visible and permeable the boundaries between our individual and communal selves. We are alone in the dark of the theater or the light of the museum, and also together.”
Simply put, even when we are alone, we are together through art.
Support Artists and Art Education
Art makes our world brighter, it heals us, and it empowers us to make the world a better place. So, why are artists completely underappreciated in society? They shouldn’t be.
In “Why It’s Good Business to Support The Arts” from Forbes, Henry Kurkowski argues, “The economic impact of the arts is well documented […] There are many reasons why promoting local arts and cultural nonprofits can help to improve communities. Promoting the arts can also positively impact the bottom line for companies that support these organizations.” Kurkowski says that companies can benefit from supporting the arts, but there are ways individuals can support artists, too. If you’re looking for a way to give back to artists, buy from them on websites such as Etsy and RedBubble. These platforms are dedicated to supporting artists and selling unique work. Like any other buying decision you make, it’s always better to buy from a small business.
Perhaps the best way you can support the arts is by protecting art education in schools. Art programs are frequently underfunded and sometimes even cut in public schools. A year ago in Oklahoma, a school’s art program was cut, and students lost a valuable part of their education.
An article titled “Decline in School Arts Programs Follows Funding Drop, But Cuts Aren’t Equally Felt” from High Plains Public Radio Online discusses the fallout from the elimination of the arts: “High school juniors and seniors had a dedicated art teacher who taught class five days a week. They would paint, sketch and learn ceramics. That all changed five years ago after budget cuts forced district officials to eliminate the class. Now, instead of creating art every day, high school students have the option of learning about its history online. Very few do.”
Art programs are usually the first to go because the arts can’t be tested; there’s nothing on the SAT or ACT about art specifically. This means the decision to cut arts programs is almost exclusively a data-driven decision. You can’t put a numerical value on art.
In “Probing the power and importance of art” from the American Psychological Association, Kristen Weir writes about art in schools: “Funding for arts education is often precarious, and arts advocates are eager to show that studying art or music will lead to better grades or higher SAT scores […] ‘In general, correlational studies showed a strong connection: Kids who take arts classes do well in school,’ Winner explains.” Weir continues by arguing that art teaches more meaningful things that can’t be measured on paper.
In “10 Real-World Ways Art Class Can Impact Your Life” from The Art of Education University, Debi West talks about everything you gain from art education. She argues that the art education we receive in school provides us with several skills we need as adults: creativity, improved academic performance, developed fine motor skills, confidence, visual learning, decision making, perseverance, concentration skills, collaboration skills, and accountability.
Imagine A World Without Art
Some people are still unconvinced of the value of art in the world. I will never stop encountering people who say things like, “I don’t understand why we’re required to take an art class in college. I’m majoring in statistics. I won’t learn anything useful in an art class.” Art doesn’t just happen in a classroom. The skills you learn in an art class you take in grade school or college will change the way you see things for the rest of your life. Art is everywhere which is why you have to engage in the arts even after you leave the classroom.
Artists are undervalued because that’s what we’re all taught in school. The people who decide to cut art in a school aren’t bad people; they make the decision because there’s no concrete numerical way to measure success in the arts. But if we were forced to measure everything in our world to see its value, and if we got rid of the things we couldn’t assess with data, we wouldn’t be left with much. I don’t want to have to imagine a world without art. I don’t want to live in a world devoid of color and music and museums and everything that makes life beautiful.
Art education is the most useful to students, not because it’ll raise their test scores, but because it’ll make them better people. Art isn’t valuable to the world because it’s good for the economy; it’s valuable because it makes life better. And in our darkest times, the times we’re in need of hope, the times we want to feel human, we turn to art. The world turns to art.