I am a passionate advocate for the importance of the Arts within a well-rounded education and, as a teacher of Visual Arts for over 20 years, know this field of study involves so much more than learning to draw pretty pictures. It is a subject with innumerable cross-curricular possibilities (something I love to explore), and one which teaches life-skills such as problem solving, communication, creativity, innovation, and the ability to think divergently. Many of these skills are key requirements to success in areas such as business, higher level mathematics and scientific research. Renowned British filmmaker Alan Parker CBE once said that in a well-rounded education, “Art should be right there, right up in the front because art teaches you to deal with the world around you. It is the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe” .
Sadly however, many people view STEM subjects and the Arts as being seemingly irreconcilable, yet their combination has often resulted in some amazing innovations. For example, in 2002 Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, made a seemingly bold statement about the Arts and Science in a TED talk. She said:
“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing… The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”
From Virtual Reality and animation to technology and music, there is now much more frequent discussion around how the arts and science can be combined  to improve innovation. Keri Kukral, professional ballet dancer turned successful Biomedical engineer, urges us to explore what multi-dimensionality means to individuals, and how we can interweave various strands into our own lives to broaden our horizons. She asks us to consider “What [we would] have missed out on if Steve Jobs had not taken a class in calligraphy, or studied Zen Buddhism, or acquired Pixar”.
Often, conversations around this topic primarily concern how science can improve the possibilities of the arts, yet as demonstrated by Keri Kural, the arts have arguably influenced science in equal measure, driving innovation and inspiring technology both in recent years and throughout history.
Taking this idea on board are several medical schools around the world who are investing in curriculum incorporating the arts. Professors argue that engaging in the arts during medical school is valuable in developing essential skills that doctors need, like critical thinking and observational and communication skills, as well as bias awareness and empathy. Dr. Michael Flanagan of Penn State College of Medicine states that:
“It’s not just a nice idea to incorporate arts into medical schools to make the education more interesting, such programs are protecting and maintaining students’ empathy so that by the time they go off to practice medicine, they’re still empathetic individuals.”
One of the most popular programs, adopted at schools including Yale and Harvard, involves students meeting at art museums to describe and discuss artworks. At the most basic level, these exercises in close observation help to improve diagnostic skills—priming students to identify visual symptoms of illness or injury in patients, and (hopefully) preventing them from making misguided assumptions, instead learning to delve beneath face value.
Research at the University of Sydney released in April of this year concludes that art making programs “provide an important extension to traditional medical humanities curricula. Designed and facilitated well, active creative engagement can cultivate empathy, professionalism, and professional identity” .
When we step back and consider that the aforementioned methodologies are now deemed invaluable within Tertiary Education institutes teaching the Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine, it is impossible to deny that Arts staff within a school setting are, and have been for many years, making tangible contributions to the development of the whole child, instilling the principles of a lifelong learner who is curious, open-minded, and innovative. I encourage all parents to acknowledge this valuable contribution and see the Arts as a multi-disciplinary subject with high levels of academic rigor and value across the Reception to Year 12 curriculum.
Senior School Art Teacher