Why Fine Art for Little Ones?

Why pursue a fine art education during the school year? As a parent, I certainly want my sons to thrive academically in order to maximize their opportunities for rewarding careers. We all know that the best sort of success, however, is far from one-dimensional; a good education will have nurtured a sense of excitement, enthusiasm, culture, focus and care.  At Art Steps, we want to see curious young students mature into enlightened adults, because people with a deeply developed aesthetic sense will add depth and flavor to everything they touch as the years roll by, from their academic studies, to their careers, to the fabric of their everyday lives.

Jillian Chopra, age 17, after Bouguereau  Oil on Canvas 6'x8'
Jillian Chopra, age 17, after Bouguereau
oil on canvas 6’x8′

Countless studies, including a 2002 report by the Arts Education Partnership, have revealed that young learners who are exposed to the arts do a better job at mastering reading, writing and math than those who focus solely on academics. Again and again, I’ve witnessed that kind of success among our own Art Steps kids. Our long-term students are well-rounded and exude confidence, like 17-year-old Jillian Chopra, who has just wrapped up this absolutely stunning large-scale Bouguereau master copy with us and will now pursue a medical degree from the University of Washington in Seattle this September. For these young people, learning to pour their hearts into a painting means learning to deeply love the task at hand, and this spills over into many areas of their lives.

We also see many students who pursue artistic careers for the sheer love of the art itself.  I am incredibly proud of those like Annalise Copenhaver (who I remember personally teaching when she was just 7 or 8 years old), now a prolific painter who has already created a unique visual voice for herself, and will be attending the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago this fall. See her gorgeous body of work at www.annaliseartworks.com. Whether her paintings hang in museums someday or she eventually chooses to parlay her skills into another field, she will have become a highly trained artist, a critical thinker who questions the status quo, and is likely to elevate the discourse wherever she goes.

Both of these kids have a bright future ahead. According to a report released by the County Superintendents of Schools in the State of California, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.“   In this new age, the report notes, professional success and personal satisfaction will depend on developing abilities that require more sophisticated analysis. “The capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new” will be essential skills.   The report outlines movement from left brain-directed reasoning to these six right brain-directed aptitudes:

  • Not just function, but also DESIGN
  • Not just argument, but also STORY
  • Not just focus, but also SYMPHONY
  • Not just logic, but also EMPATHY
  • Not just seriousness, but also PLAY
  • Not just accumulation, but also MEANING
    "Hilda Darling" Oil on canvas board Current work by former student Annalise Copenhaver, now college-bound.
    “Hilda Darling” acrylic on canvas
    Independent adult work by former student Annalise Copenhaver

These are the fruits of years of creative study, enriching our lives as a whole.  Through Art Steps’ gently disciplined approach, we’ve seen countless students start off squirmy and restless, then learn to relax into focusing better and better each month, with both the kids and their parents reporting improved academic results. Though it would be nice if there were more art in schools as a whole, I’m honored on a daily basis to be able to provide this consistent, meditative, aesthetically satisfying experience for the kids in our community.  As Deborah Meier, founder of the modern small schools movement, and recipient of honorary degrees at Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale, states, “The arts are fundamental to children’s education…. One way we grapple with ideas is through the arts…. A school that has ignored the artist in us has done damage.”

We must also remember: even though September is rolling around, school isn’t everything, nor should it be.   As much as the practice of creative study helps prepare students for such tangible rewards as scholastic advancement and desirable careers, the arts simply make life better for us all. As Deborah Meyer pointed out, “… because the arts are fundamental to human nature, to the human being, I do not see art as an instrument to teach something else. The primary reason why we need strong arts programs in the schools is that human beings are artists.”

As a visual artist myself, I must agree.  My life is richer and brighter because I am able to draw and paint. To sketch a portrait of my niece on a lazy day, to marvel at the extraordinary beauty in the light, shadow and shape found outside the car window, to participate in art exhibits that have made my community richer- these small events bring enormous meaning to my adult life. Whatever happens tomorrow, I know that I have truly lived. Jillian, Annalise, my own boys, and even some of our youngest Art Steps kids know exactly how this feels.  I hope that yours will, too.