Arts and sciences; it seems that educational representatives, and indeed, politics has aided in the drawing of battle lines between the two, trying to measure the importance of each to both education and our lives in general. The ‘core’ academic subjects, such as maths and the sciences, have always been viewed as the holy grail of essential education for young people. And it is unquestionable that these subjects have advanced humanity in a measurable, tangible way. The issue is that the arts occupy a whole different realm of importance for humanity, and one that cannot be measured as easily, quite simply because it does not operate on the same plane.
To phrase it very crudely; science explains why we are alive. Art shows us why it’s worth being alive. For young people, being given access and exposure to the arts is essential to see the world through many filters, and view humanity from many angles. Science measures a line, but art paints the line in a variety of colours, or creates a poem about the line, or explores how the line makes us feel. In an educational setting, it’s important that young people are allowed to adventure into their emotions in order to emotionally develop, as this is arguably just as important as academic development.
The Philip Pullman quote sums these points up beautifully; “the arts are of incalculable worth in what it means to be a human being.” The key word here is ‘incalculable.’ While most aspects of scientific subjects can be calculated, art does not live in the same world. Art expresses the indescribable. It channels our raw humanity, our soul, our spirit, and bears it to the world. When we watch a dance, or read a book, or see a painting, it is creating an unexplainable mood or atmosphere that we did not know existed until that moment. When we experience or create art, we are less inclined to name things, or to categorise them. And in a world where categorisation happens far too often, it’s vital that young people are taught that not everything can be labelled.
However, if art really is the creative expression of our humanity, then is it really something that can be ‘taught’ in the educational sense? Can we examine or grade the arts? Although there is technically no ‘right answer’ for artistic subjects, educational facilities are still required to, in some way, measure and evaluate the skill and worth of a certain piece of art. But does this defeat the purpose of it? Does the fact that the true power of art cannot be expressed as freely as it might outside of education, undervalue the art that is taught in schools?
To explore this we must ask; what is the purpose of the arts? The answer will differ depending on who you ask, but answers may include: enjoyment, creativity, development of emotional intelligence, and expression of culture and spirituality. We must now ask, despite the fact that the arts are in some way forced to conform to measurement and grading, does this detract from the importance of the arts to the young people travelling through this system?
It’s arguable that while the taught art is an ‘adapted’ version of the indefinable force that it is, it is still allowing children to enjoy it, to creatively express their humanity, to develop their emotional intelligence, and to express their culture and spirituality. The only difference is, at school it is done in a more controlled setting and under stricter conditions. But can’t the same be said of every aspect of educational facilities?
The important thing is that young people are involved in arts as early as possible, and are allowed opportunity to tap into their humanity and creativity from a young age. Since children spend much of their time at school, educators do have an important role in granting them that freedom. It is art that produces a song you can’t explain, a poem you can’t describe, and a moment you can’t repeat. And the world would be a colourless place without it. This is something that everyone needs to realise, if only to gain some insight as to what it means to be a human being.