It seems that the pressure of thinking about the future of our children trickles down to them, whether we like it or not; more and more, we are seeing academic programs being implemented in schools at early ages where students must make life-changing career decisions by setting out on a specific path to get a head start. While this is an intelligent direction, curriculums are also losing track of the bigger picture where learning is involved, resulting in physical education and arts programmes being cut further back each year to make way for more specialised subjects. The end result is that children and adolescents are not only losing out on developing a heightened ability to think analytically and logically, but are also missing out on enhancing social skills, personal growth, and the capacity to be free and creative which is so important right from the early developmental stages of life.[i] We owe it to children to be able to explore the arts and enjoy them, whether it is for intellectual development or fulfilment.
Changing the Way We Think About Life
While the UK enjoys a huge, diverse and lively arts scene which receives extensive funding from organizations like Arts Council England which implements pro-active long-term programmes[ii] as well as many events and festivals which take place throughout the year, the outlook on the arts industry as a whole continues to encounter tension within our current economic structure. Despite the invaluable skills which are cultivated during early years all the way up to university levels and beyond in the arts, its respective professions are not always perceived to carry the same urgency or necessity as careers in science or economics, and this is even reflected in the cuts to arts programs at leading institutions.[iii] Parents may enjoy watching their children’s talents flourish in painting, dancing, and piano, but even at an early age, they may feel the need to gradually siphon out these pastimes in order to make time for school and more “useful” occupations; let’s also not forget the evident competitiveness and relatively poor pay of many arts careers as well.
In reality, the arts do not only perform many “useful” functions in terms of generating local economies as well as tourism and increasing a region’s cultural capital, but help to comprise the overall social health and identity of a place as well.[iv] On an individual level, the arts provide an invaluable experience, provided it is allowed to be explored naturally with the occasional motivation or competition. During developmental stages, the arts enhance cognitive abilities and develop motor skills as well as academic performance, while they also lead to the growth of intuitive skill sets such as inventiveness, cultural awareness, problem solving, and shaping one’s individual identity.[v] Children who engage in the arts not only learn how to keep their own company – a virtue which is becoming increasingly hard to come by – but also learn what it is like to collaborate on a creative project and utilise one another’s skills as well as personal attributes. The social and individual benefits of this build a framework crucial for a variety of lifetime scenarios.
An Invaluable Outlet
But it is also important to argue for art for its own sake. It is a pastime – or passion – that for some children can become an escape which is cathartic, revealing, and fulfilling. And for some children, it can truly be a life-changing endeavour, particularly for individuals undergoing a difficult period in their lives. Utilizing the arts in a format such as art therapy is one way in which people help children to tackle with various mental challenges, giving them an outlet for expression which is accessible, safe, and free as well as helping to develop vital skills.[vi] This can be a valuable technique when used as an alternative or in conjunction with other therapies which address common mental challenges which children face, as well as give them an enjoyable activity to focus on.[vii] Even in a pursuit as simple as hobby, the impact it will have on a child’s life will prove to be invaluable.
Some children may not connect with the arts, although there is usually something which can be of interest to everyone. This is perfectly fine, but children should be able to have the choice to enjoy the arts, and every community should have access to resources which enable children to pursue their subject of interest, be it music, dance, painting or poetry. We should not be questioning if the arts are valuable to society and a child’s development, but how we can create a society which gives children the opportunity to grow, create, learn, socialise, and move forward towards a more innovative and conscientious future.
this has been written by freelance journalist Helen Dale
[i] ChildAlert.org.uk. “Music and Child Development”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[ii] ArtsCouncil.org.uk. “Great Art and Culture for Everyone”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[iii] TheGuardian.com. “Growing outcry at threat of cuts in humanities at universities”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[iv] Tate.org.uk. “Nicholas Serota on Global Citizenship: a reminder of art’s role in society”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[v] PBS.org. “The Importance of Art in Child Development”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[vi] ArtTherapyJournal.org. “How Art Therapy Can Help Children”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.
[vii] PsychGuides. “ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder)”. Accessed 21 December, 2014.