The Arts: A Crucial Part of Education

December 10, 2013

Jason Radalin

A well-rounded education needs the arts.  Apple founder Steve Jobs once said that it is the study of technology “married with liberal arts, married with the humanities  that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”  There are perspectives that the arts can give to people that simply can’t be otherwise achieved.

This semester at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, there were two events that helped support this idea.  Artist Linda Stein’s exhibition “The Fluidity of Gender” was presented in the Perrella Gallery.  Stein’s artwork challenges classic images of femininity and masculinity in large-scale leather sculptures and suits of “armor” made from old Wonder Woman comic strips that people can actually wear.  When Stein was on-campus earlier this semester, she spoke of how things have changed in her lifetime in regard to gender, but still how far we have to go.  This, she said, was her inspiration for her artwork.

 Following in the footsteps of the Linda Stein exhibition, the FM’s Foggy Mountain Players Theatre Club presented Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play “Vinegar Tom.”  Churchill, too, takes gender and society as her theme.  “Vinegar Tom” tells the story of several women in 17th century England who are accused of witchcraft.  The play makes clear that these women have done nothing wrong, but are merely scapegoats due to their “outsider” position in the world in which they live.  The masterstroke of Churchill’s play is that it includes several songs that tell, from a modern perspective, just how far we haven’t come.

Certainly, a student can study the statistics of gender and equality in the classroom, and that study does yield knowledge.  The work of Stein and Churchill, however, helps students think through the information they learn.  These and other instances of the arts are crucial to our students becoming well-rounded thinkers and citizens of the world.

In 2008, The Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization with particular interests in brain science, immunology, and education, published “Learning, Arts, and the Brain,”  a report that brought together cognitive neuroscientists from seven universities across the United States to grapple with the question of why arts training has been associated with higher academic performance.  Among other findings, the report states that, “An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.”  Indeed, what the arts add to education is not only new perspectives on a specific subject (like gender in society) but an increased ability to use one’s brain, in the many domains that make up modern life.

At FM, we are proud to offer students the chance to not only appreciate, but also participate in the arts.  Courses and programs in the arts, from elementary school through college, offer a balanced mix of study and practice, understanding and process, thinking and doing. They demand much of — and give much to — students in the development of creativity, teamwork, adaptability, historical perspectives, and critical thinking. 

Producer, Director, Cinematographer Steven Soderbergh summed up his view on the arts best when he stated, “I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating… anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us – I think the world would be unlivable without art.”

Jason Radalin is Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts.

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