Why Art is Essential in Our Public Schools
By Susi Lawson

As an artist, instructor and Mother I have a growing concern about the elimination of vital creative programs in our children’s schools. Computers are now in every classroom across the country so that our children may have access to modern technology and an abundance of information. The "Information Highway" is certainly too ominous to ignore, but what about the information in the hallway?

If I had been given a computer during those intense ‘growing-up’ years, I may have had endless information, but I would not have had the knowledge that, in spite of all the teasing and ridicule, I was really ‘okay’. That inside of me was a spirit worthy of recognition, and that through art that spirit could be revealed, acknowledged, shared and even celebrated. Most importantly, art can offer a much-needed outlet for those capped up emotions, which scream for release in a child’s heart. Art in essence is a wonderful vehicle for communication. It’s a way of saying " I exist and I have something to share with you." I often say that art is a language we can all speak.

It would be great if our children could simply learn to avoid pain, but of course that is impossible. Most of us try to ignore it, but we all know what happens then. Pain left unattended only grows, makes us sick and cries for our attention. But if pain is acknowledged and heard then it is at least reduced to a level of management. We must give all children the opportunity and tools to address their emotional well being. Not just their pain, but also their joy. They can speak it, read about it, write it, sing it, draw it or paint it. Children can become aware of their own valuable contributions to their school, family and community. They can become aware that, yes it is good to ‘become somebody’, but most importantly, they already are someone of immense value. The message that we sometimes give children is that ‘when they grow-up’ they will be someone of value. Questions such as "What do you want to be?" can actually be a belittling comment to a child. As adults we must focus on who children already are and acknowledge their daily progress and unique personalities.

I started this column talking about the availability of computers in our schools. Yes, computers are wonderful tools, but do we rely on them at the expense of human relations? Yes, computers can connect us to the world, but do they isolate us from our families? American families were already stretched for time at home. Most of them admitting that after they get home from work, get dinner, hopefully help with homework, there are only a few precious minutes spent with the kids before bedtime. Add to this orchestration a computer, and well…there aren’t many minutes left. The Internet and chat rooms have become the newest addition to modern day addictions. Nowadays there are a lot of children tucking themselves in bed because Mom or Dad can not pull themselves away from their newfound ‘friends’ on the internet.

While shopping last weekend, I overheard a couple discussing how children have lost respect for their elders, and "I know why", one of them huffed, "It’s because we took the stick away." Well, it certainly isn’t the sticks that are missing, but it could possibly be the absence of parents themselves.

Where do the children turn when there is no one home to talk to? No one to guide, comfort, console or embrace?

And why is it you never hear adults talk about how we, perhaps, may be failing our children? I am really tired of overhearing conversations that make our children sound like the enemy. How are children suppose to cope in this troubled world, how will they handle their problems at school and at home if they are receiving the message that we aren’t even behind them? If we could all just take a pledge as parents, teachers, and neighbors to stop putting down our children, do you know what a positive impact that would have on our youth?

Art can’t erase the pain of life. It cannot eliminate the criticism and cruelty that so many children endure, but it can and does connect children with a strong inner resource, which contributes to a better sense of self.

During Jr. High School I was teased on a daily basis by a group of children in the cafeteria. I was called the ‘witch’ because of my pointed nose. I began to hang my head to hide my nose beneath my long hair, and I stopped eating in the cafeteria. I sought refuge behind a tree during lunch. This went on for quite some time until my art teacher, Mr. Villers noticed that my posture had changed, and he was thoughtful enough to ask me what was wrong. When I told him how I hated my nose he smiled and took a large book down from the shelf. It was a book of Greek and roman statures. He sat down beside me and said that what I had was a true ‘classic’ nose, the kind that can be found on the most famous statures in the world. He flipped through the pages, offering up proof that my nose was a ‘work of art’. Needless to say, though my nose hadn’t changed a bit, my way of looking at it had.

Art has the ability to change the way we look at things, including others and ourselves. Art teachers have the privilege of being in the wonderful position of assisting this awareness in his or her students.

Art helps us to celebrate our uniqueness, to walk tall down the hallways of our youth. Creative endeavors give us a new awareness of our inner spirit, which cannot be silenced, which must be expressed. As long as children are given the tools for healthy expression, then there is no time or thought for destruction.

I believe we are paying a heavy price in the elimination of programs, which encourage self-expression. We must have subjects that focus on our children’s inner treasure rather than just external measure.

I recently completed a 13 week Art Image Program at Scott Memorial I asked the children themselves to answer this question. "Do you feel that art is Important to your Education?" This is what some of them, in their own words, had to say.

"Art is very important for many reasons. One of them being that you can express yourself without words, without harming yourself or anyone else. You don’t have to be ‘good’ at art to get your point across to the viewer. You could simply draw a small picture and make a large difference in a certain person’s life.

Art is educational too. Each week when I went into art, I

came out knowing more. This class has made me want to sign up for art in high school because it has been such an enjoyment for me." Anna Caldwell

"Art is important to me because I can be creative and express my feelings through art. When I create something I am always proud, and I look forward to showing my work to my family, and friends. I have learned how to express my mental view on paper. I am neither bored or tired after art because it is always fun and refreshing. It gives me the opportunity to learn new skills and it helps my personal growth."

Anna Smith

"Art teaches us that everything around us is art and we should notice it. Education without art is like a stem without the flower. Our art is like butterflies, they are all beautiful, but they are all different."

Alicia Henderson

"I have learned who invented mobiles and the difference between 2 and 3 dimensional art."

Mary Carpenter

"I learned that I can be good at anything if I work hard."

Nathalie Harrison

"I feel it’s important to learn about artists in the past and present and to express myself"

Mike Ferritto

"It’s a new experience everytime you get to draw something. It helps me to express the way I feel. I’ve learned that no matter what I draw, paint or make, it is beautiful. Art is beautiful because it’s made by you and there’s only one like it."

Tara Chapman

"Art makes me feel that I can do anything that I want to do."

Charles D. Miller

"Everyone should take art because it expands your mind and really relaxes you."

Seth Chumbly

"It develops eye and hand coordination and it gives kids a chance to express their feelings."

Jeffery Dillow

"Art expresses your feelings and uses your mind."

Brandon Wolford

"Art is important because it is a part of history. It is a way for people to express what they feel in ways that you can’t do with words. It makes me proud to be able to create something that people will compliment me on."

Grace Chaffin

"Art can teach us many things that books can’t. It is good for our education because it helps us express our feelings."

Laura Moore

" I have learned that everyone is different. Everyone has their own style. We are very unique."

Amy Goff

"Art can keep you calm."

Christina Dunford