Simply because…it’s Art!

This issue of Teacher Plus brings those crayons, paints, and various other tangible and intangible tools of art-making out of the closet for closer examination. What do these tools and the process they embody do to and for us? What, indeed, is the place – or utility – of Art (with a capital A) in our schools, or indeed, in education as a whole? We may all agree that Art is an intrinsic part of human development, and this belief is written into education policy in different ways, but how is this to be implemented in schools, particularly with the current emphasis on learning that is instrumental and job-oriented, with the focus being on the acquisition of specific skills that can make one a good “human resource”?

The essays in this issue all are in agreement with the idea that Art has a role to play. There is some variation in how this role is to play out within the school space, and this diversity in views is to be welcomed. While some contributors have emphasized the ways in which Art becomes a path to understanding other subjects, or how it develops certain sensibilities that can serve the broader aims of education, one or two have taken a slightly different track, asking us to instead reject the instrumental view and accept Art simply for what it is – and simply because it is that which it is.

To make the case for Art we often have to resort to the instrumentalist argument, and perhaps it is also a way to retain a space for the arts in the increasingly busy school curriculum. But for teachers of art there is always this negotiation between its instrumental value and its intrinsic value. How do we talk about the joy of taking a walk and justify the time we spend wandering without linking it to some outcome, such as the health or psychological benefit of exercise? How do we sell the simple joys of colouring or painting without linking it to a calming meditative practice? How do we make space for children to run around in wild abandon, playing with drama and dance, and getting comfortable in their skins and bodies without always linking it to the importance of developing mind-body coordination?

Teachers of art in all its forms know that for them, the argument is superfluous; that Art is important because it is Art. But as long as justification is required, then I suppose one must also have the words ready for that justification – and there’s no doubt that Art does also serve a variety of extrinsic purposes, as our contributors very eloquently have pointed out.

So here’s to celebrating the arts, in all their variety, simply because they exist!