Art Matters

By on March 8, 2014

Teaching art in Japan was an unimaginable possibility for someone coming through the Los Angeles public schools in the 1960s and ‘70s.  At least I would not have imagined it for myself.  After all, I had no special connection to Japan, or art.

Students showing signs of exceptional aptitude were funneled into advanced math and science courses.  There’s nothing wrong with that—they are important studies.  But during middle school and high school, I remember taking one poorly-organized music course; I don’t recall taking any art courses.  By the time I was attending university—even though it was on a full academic scholarship—I began to feel that something was missing.
A similar imbalance in education continues today.  When economies falter and budgets are getting squeezed, arts programs get cut.  It happens in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere.  Math and science courses are simply considered more indispensable.

We should also consider, though, that it’s the artistic achievements that command attention as the culminating flowers of civilizations.  Art has always been an integral part of mankind’s search for meaning in life.  When we abandon the arts, we give up on a core part of ourselves.

But our concern is not so much about history, it is about people today—our children, friends, parents, and ourselves.  So when we give up on art, we deprive each other.  When education is geared solely towards technology or earnings, we may satisfy the requirements of making a living and yet never appreciate the mystery of life.

I eventually entered a rigorous apprenticeship with a master artist. I learned that art develops certain sets of skills that are not necessarily developed in academic studies.  This includes a type of “vision” that looks at situations and problem-solving globally or holistically.  It makes sense—of course artists would be concerned with “seeing the whole picture.”      This synthetic, analogic approach often differs from the linear, analytical training that is modern education.  Both are important.  I would never argue that we should do away with modern education, only complete it.  The artist’s way offers the possibility of “thinking outside the box.”  The experience of improvising and problem-solving with real materials, and the resulting coordination of hand, eye, and mind, is not available sitting in front of a computer screen.

It was from that first-hand experience of the real value of art that I became interested in art education, and why a group of us have started ArtLOFT here in Tokyo.  We are convinced that all people have the same potential, and that in most cases, those abilities only need to be awakened and developed.  The arts are an important tool in that awakening.  For the concerned parent, it is wise to ensure these needs are being met in your child’s education.

Arts education is not just for students planning to become artists.  It offers practical advantages in any life direction.  Many of the greatest scientists placed prime importance on some arts involvement as a key factor in their discoveries.  When Einstein tried to imagine what it would be like to ride a beam of light, when he wondered what he would see and experience, he was thinking like an artist.  He was not considered an exceptional mathematician.  He was not even a standout student.  Yet his simple, imaginative play shook the foundations of science and changed the way we see the world.  Modern budgets reveal that our cultures value science more that art.  Maybe it will always be that way.  But at the rarified peaks of science, Einstein could confidently affirm from his own experience that “imagination is more important that knowledge.”  His imagination was not the sum total of his accomplishment, only an essential part.

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