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The Importance of Visual Arts on Learning

Visual arts are an important part of brain based education. They can enhance cognition, emotional expression, perception, cultural awareness, and aesthetics. Visual arts also play a significant role in the learning process.

The visual arts are a universal language, which helps students construct meaning. Abraham Maslow once said, “The arts are far closer to the core of education than are the more exalted subjects.”

So what are “visual arts”? They include:

  • Design, art production, paper and canvas work, photography, drawing, illustrating, and painting.
  • Technical theatre work such as costume design, make-up, lighting, props, and scenery.
  • Technology such as film making, visualizing, computer graphics, editing, shooting, and print making.
  • Other visual arts include architecture, visual thinking, graphic organizers, and mind maps.

Howard Gardner states visual arts need strong spatial senses and are a high form of intelligence. Doing art is a way of thinking and demonstrates the product of thinking. Drawing allows our fertile imagination to create meaning.

Bezruczko and Schroeder (1996) suggest that the benefits are greater when the visual arts are started early. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Visual arts has been shown on many occasions to improve reading and math scores. One study took 96 pupils in eight, year-two classes. Four classes where given an arts enriched program while the remaining four classes acted as the control group with a standard arts curriculum. After 7 months in arts enriched classes averaged 77% on reading and maths tests while the control group averaged 55%.

Students in secondary school classes have reported drawing complements the writing and thinking process by enabling them to clarify their ideas, which leads to improved comprehension.

There are many different visual arts tools. Concept mapping identifies the micro and macro elements of a topic and conceptual graphs can help capture expert knowledge. Mind mapping can stimulate creativity and enhance recall. Clustering groups of similar items can improve comprehension, idea fluency, and organization. Webbing helps the learner link prior knowledge to current knowledge.

Practical Ideas For The Classroom

  • Allow students to doodle, illustrate, or mind-map in class.
  • Use colors and draw symbols to recall easily.
  • Encourage students to color code work and ideas.
  • Ask students to visually represent an event, how they feel about themselves, or a self review.
  • Bring in examples of art you enjoy and share it with your students
  • Make comments about the sheer beauty and joy of visual displays, pictures, and other work.
  • As early as possible involve students with visual tools.
  • Give students ways to use visual tools creatively
  • Give students choice in using visual tools. One day they might use a mindmap and the next a flow chart.
  • Give students a chance to create their own future. Allow them to create a blue print of their life.
  • Study art from different cultures.
  • Set goals and cut out pictures from magazines to make a poster of these goals.
  • Ask students to demonstrate what they have learned in many different ways; graphic organizers, pictures, and murals.

Eric Jensen maintains that visual arts represent a way of thinking and expressing oneself. He continues to say, without this, students are forced to think the way teachers want them to think, reducing creativity and expression. Unless students have access to stimulating arts activities, they’re cut off from many ways to perceive the world.

Eric Jensen; Arts with the Brain in Mind
David Hyerle; Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge
Karen Boyes; Creating An Effective Learning Environment
Howard Gardner; Frames Of Mind

About Karen Boyes

Karen Boyes is described as Australasia's "Mrs. Education." An expert in effective teaching, learning, and living, Karen turns research into practical and simple to use techniques that create success. As the founder of Spectrum Education, an author, publisher of the Teachers Matter magazine, and the associate director of the Institute for the Habits of Mind, Karen is an expert in teaching and learning throughout the world.

  1. john sherman says:

    I am doing research for my master’s course in Multiple Intelligences and wanted to read and critique the study that showed the positive impact on math and reading.
    Can you provide more info or a link to it?
    John Sherman

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