If you’re a parent, and you tell someone “My child practices soccer six days a week,” you’ll likely get a sympathetic nod from that person—sports are important, right? Kids need to get off their screens and be outside with other kids—and don’t forget those potential college scholarships for athletics!
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Now imagine instead telling that person “My child goes to art class six days a week!” You’d probably get a much different reaction. “Why?” they might ask. What would you say? What could children possibly get from art classes that could be more useful than all of those skills they learn from playing a sport?
We all probably already associate art and performing arts classes with creativity and actual skills, like painting or playing an instrument. Kids are naturally creative! And yes, we do see daily news articles about creativity being an important asset to our economy. So creativity won’t be on this list, because it’s a given, as are the actual skills kids learn such as drawing or dancing. I’ll also be focusing mainly on examples from the visual arts, but these skills also apply to the performing arts as well.
Before I continue, I’d also like to make it clear that I’m not here to attack sports. As a former public school teacher and a current parent, I know the wonders of physical activity for children. I just happened to grow up with an art habit (thanks to Grandma) and would like to share the unique, long-term benefits I’ve experienced as a student, teacher, and parent from making and encouraging others to make art every day.
So with that in mind, here are four skills you might not have realized children and teens can develop by taking art classes:
1. Improved decision-making
Students at any age go through phases as art students. In the beginning phase, students will need a lot of direct instruction to master skills such as drawing. At some point, though, students who continue to study art are handed the reins for their own projects. Students will get to decide which subjects to depict, which mediums they wish to use, how to arrange compositions, which techniques will work best, and even how to begin and end a project. A student who has spent many hours getting comfortable with making such choices will likely have no problem visualizing how to begin, work on, and complete a project. Think first about a child (or teen) who just creates fun projects during spare time (which is great, but takes a lot of internal motivation). Now, consider a student who creates under the guidance of an instructor, who coaches that student in the actual decision-making process, as many art teachers do. As our economy shifts to accommodate more freelance work, doesn’t experience with making decisions and taking projects through completion sound like a useful skill?
2. Willingness to take good risks
Hand in hand with decision-making goes risk-taking. As parents, we often loathe letting our children take risks. They might get hurt. They might cry. They might be so turned off by the experience that they’ll never try it again. Art class, however, is a great place to get comfortable with risk-taking.
My personal favorite part of creating art is the experimental side of it—I love trying new techniques, just to see how things come out at the end. I have thrown many things away, but I’ve stumbled on so many fun techniques that it’s always worth the time to me to try something different.
Young children definitely tend to jump right in and try new things, but think about a shy teenager—how might taking a few unorthodox steps to create a new piece of artwork benefit that child? Being comfortable taking risks in one area of life can lead to new opportunities in other areas too.
Kids can also learn that there’s a time and a place for risk-taking. On the field, when your coach has given you a clear strategy to follow—definitely not the best time. But taking a semester or year abroad to learn a new language and experience another culture? Think of the possibilities!
3. Ability to experience failure (and learn from it!)
Speaking of risk-taking, the main reason we don’t like to see our children do it is because there is a good chance they might fail. Having been blinded by my own glasses at a night game (which led to me dropping a softball at a decisively bad moment in the outfield as a twelve year-old), I remember the many lessons of sports failures. The worst part of such failures was feeling like I had let a whole group of people down.
Having watched my own children crumple up paper and cry at the table when they don’t like how their paintings are going, making art provides plenty of opportunity for failures too. A good art teacher will get students comfortable with the concept of failure and being critiqued. Painting at home for fun, kids will hear a lot of “well, it’s ok, it’s art and you can make it however you want it!”
In a good art class, failure is often the norm. When something doesn’t work, art teachers will often say, “You’re right, that didn’t work. How can you tell? What would you do differently?” This teaches children to a) recognize and accept their own failures and b) analyze those failures to improve their work.
In a team sport, the goal is not to fail so that your team can win. In art class, the goal is to learn from each failure and add it to your store of knowledge about what does and doesn’t work for the outcome you are trying to achieve. Students who get comfortable with failure and struggle often come through it with renewed strength and polished skills, determined to meet their own definitions of success. That sounds like good practice for a future business owner to me.
4. Inner source of confidence and motivation
The combined experiences of trying, failing or succeeding, and analyzing successes and failures can be a powerful source of confidence. However, if your child is taking art classes, eventually you’ll see some accomplished artworks coming home, right? Of course!
As an art teacher, I happen to believe that everyone has the ability to create artwork. It’s just a matter of finding the unique way each child has of creating. If I’ve got logical, highly detail-oriented students, I often encourage them to explore colored pencils, cartooning, and realistic drawing. Those who are comfortable with big splashes of color often enjoy painting with big brushes and creating bright collages.
Letting children focus on skills that help them further their unique styles and talents can give them a big boost of inner confidence. Instead of asking the teacher constantly if things “look right,” art students can experience the joy of relying on their own skills and judgment. Think about a child who focuses on approval from outsiders. How does that child react when put in a situation where there is no one to give approval? A child who is comfortable with the creative process knows that a project can’t be completed (and the results enjoyed) until it is started, worked through, and finished.
Adults who have experience starting and completing projects seem to do well in life, whether they are at college, work, at home, or teaching their own children to get to work on something!
So yes, of course kids need the many benefits that come with activities like sports. I would argue, though, that the next time you’re wondering what your child (or teen) could possibly “get out” of taking the time to go to art classes, think about what it would be like if you did make even a small commitment to any of the arts—performing and visual!
Your child might not end up with that fabulous art scholarship and prestigious art career selling million-dollar paintings, but he or she might just come out of it with a lifelong devotion to the arts and some solid life skills that cross over to the home and business worlds as well.
As an added bonus, you don’t have to sit there and cheer while your kid is learning how to make art! You can go get a coffee, or maybe enjoy your own creative or exercise time (or catch up on old episodes of Twilight Zone like I do). So take back a couple of hours of your week and sign your child up for an art class today!