What To Tell Parents Who Say Art Doesn’t Matter

Have you ever come across a parent who tries to belittle art? Perhaps it’s in the middle of a parent-teacher conference or during a back-to-school night conversation. The typical commentary of the parent is that art doesn’t directly translate into a job and therefore art does not provide an opportunity to make money. Sometimes parents will question the academic worth of the arts in general and see them only as an easy way for students to get an “A” on report cards.

If you are ever caught in a similar situation, here are 7 responses to the question, “Why does art matter?”

student working on project

1. Creativity is Prioritized Worldwide

The arts are all about creativity. In the 21st century, organizations across the planet are claiming that creativity and innovation are the most important skill-sets to acquire. Workers require creativity. Producing ideas, solving problems, and finding ways to make ideas come to life are essential for 21st-century work. Taking the arts in school helps develop creative and innovative functioning in the brain and gives students opportunities to grow in these areas.

2. The Arts Foster a Strong Work Ethic

Many students come into art classes with little or no prior experiences in art. The challenges of acquiring new technical abilities, applying new academic content, and mastering hands-on problem-solving fosters determination and grit. Strong art classrooms cultivate hard-working students, and work ethic can enhance any aspect of life.

students collaborating on painting

3. The Arts are College Requirement

Sometimes parents do not make the connection between the arts and higher education. As the cliché goes, students go to college to become doctors and lawyers and the arts do not fit into this narrow view of academic pursuit. However, many universities require students to fulfill one or two years of the arts before they can even apply. California, for example, holds A-G requirements that students must complete to become eligible to apply to a university. One of these requirements is one full year in an arts program. The arts are now recognized as essential to the holistic academic skill-sets in students and are becoming mandatory pre-requisites for college entry.

4. The Arts Enhance Understanding of Other Academic Content

The arts help students internalize and apply content across subject areas. Interdisciplinary work and programs such as STEAM capitalize on the power of the arts to enhance learning across content. Art provides students with the creative tools and skills to take what they learn in other subjects and apply it to work that communicates their understanding. The traditional model trains students to memorize information and regurgitate it on a test, and then forget all the information later. Students better internalize information when creating artwork that incorporates knowledge, content, and understanding of multiple subjects.

community working on mural

5. The Arts Give Us Our Culture

Think about what make us who we are. What creates our identities? Culture. Culture is almost entirely made up of the art forms that we practice or adore. Whether it is dance, culinary arts, painting, music, film, architecture, or creative writing, the arts are what bring us together and remind us we are great. Ask parents if they think their culture matters.  If it does, ask them what types of arts make up their culture. If you value culture, then you value arts. You cannot have one without the other.

6. The Arts Are Therapeutic

How many students would say school is a pleasurable experience? Between the crunch of classes stacked in their daily schedule, to the social awkwardness stirring adolescent emotions, the arts provide an outlet to cope with student ills. Students are told to sit in chairs all day, read and write about topics that do not interest them, and if they deviate from this pattern, they will struggle to survive in the real world. Art provides students the opportunity to create alternative realities and investigate what they truly have to offer the world.

7. The Arts Improve Our Quality of Life

So often in our society, happiness is equated with money. The formula for happiness and personal satisfaction is to get a good job and make lots of money. However, the reality of our nation is that most people do not become rich, and even those who do still struggle to find meaning, purpose, and satisfaction within themselves. The arts give people a means to constantly search themselves, continually investigate and comment on the world around them, and provide meaning when life becomes chaos. The arts are there for humanity to embrace and engage so we continue to find a sense of purpose. Out of all the academic subjects schools offer, what remains with students as they travel through the stages of adulthood? The arts last for life.

kids with art

The arts are the essential ingredient for true, holistic, empowering education. Scholar Jordan Maxwell explains the job of the arts is to remind us we are greater than we are being told we are. Every religious building, whether mosque, church, temple, or synagogue, strives to create ornate, intricate, artistic excellence within it. Why is that? Art is the expression of divinity. In order to channel the forces of our divine origins and nature, we must be creators.  We must create. We must become artists.

When parents leap to their own conclusions that art does not matter, it is up to you to decide how to counter this assertion. My advice is to highlight the fact that education is about far more than how to benefit the system that we live in, but it is about lifelong learning and being able to apply knowledge. Every subject offers valuable skill sets and cognitive development opportunities that can contribute to society. The arts are no different. In fact, every human society in history is known to create art. That simply cannot be said about any other subject in school. Why does art matter? Art matters because it develops, enhances, and manifests the meaning, purpose, and quality of education and life.

How have you responded to parents (or educators) who claim art doesn’t matter?

What other ideas do you have to contribute to a discussion like this?

Matt Christenson

Matt is a high school visual arts and mural design teacher in San Francisco, CA who strives to cultivate maximum creative potential in all students.

Related

  • Mmaltese

    Ask that parent about their preference style in fashion, cars, architecture/homes, tools, cosmetics, furniture, logos, jewelry, etc= someone had to have a basic art background/understanding in the principles and elements of art and design- industrial design is a huge component. If that parent who bashes art has a preference in the before mentioned list of things- should they REALLY have a preference then?

    If they are to bash art, they might as well say goodbye to the way how art explained and recorded history (paintings of historical events, major figures in history, sculptures, and busts of major political leaders, etc). Art is essential for the human experience for the causes of expression and functionality.

    • One might even go so far as to include UX in products such as Android, iOS, or Windows in that generalization too.

  • Jessica Miroglotta

    A couple years ago I wanted to be proactive and stop some negative questions and thoughts before they occurred–things like ‘I’m not creative,’ and ‘I don’t understand why we have to take this class.’ I framed it as a “Get to Know Miss M” presentation, putting a little bit of information about myself in there, but I also included the kind of information that is included in this post. The big things that I wanted to emphasize are the skills learned in an art class, how to succeed in an art class, and the fact that art is a very teachable skill.

    I give this presentation to all of my high school students on the first day of class, and show an abridged version to the parents on Meet the Teacher Night. I must say, I get a lot less questions about why students are taking art classes, and I’ve noticed a more positive attitude about art classes in general. There will always be some doubters among the parents, certainly, but I must say that for my art program this has been a really helpful step! It also really encouraged me to sit down and reflect upon my program, in order to make sure that I really am aligning with my goals and giving the students the skills I hope to give them.

  • Virginia Tibbetts

    I asked my parents on curriculum night if they would go home and turn off the tv, radio, internet for a month. Also, take anything on the walls or refridgerator down. Pack away all books. Paint all the walls white and all the furniture black. Wear only blue jeans and a white t-shirt. Take a bus to work. For a month. Then tell me that art doesn’t matter.

  • Paula

    Very nice article Matt. Thank you for sharing.

    • Matt Christenson

      Thank you Paula! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Laura Rahn

    This might be nice to share with staff too. Thank you!

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