Whitefield Academy Blog

Why Art Matters in Today’s World

by | Apr 8, 2021 | Classical Christian, Education, Middle School, The Arts, The Classroom, Uncategorized | 3 comments

Raise your hands – how many of you can relate to this:

Sometime, long ago, you sat in a classroom, head in hand. The lesson is boring you. You’re confused. You’re frustrated. You raise your hand, not to seek clarification, but to express defiance:

“Mrs. So-and-So, why do we have to learn this?”

Or…

“Mr. Whats-His-Name, when are we going to need to know this?”

Probably most of us. It’s the classic, age-old question of teenage philosophers who aren’t really looking for an answer.

In my recent blog post, I talked about grading kids’ artwork (you should read it!). In that post, I made this statement:

I think what we do in Art class matters. I think it’s important.

I know…bold, reckless, even controversial. But I stand by it. What we do in the Art room matters…a lot. It is serious business!

With Art Show season upon us, I’ve got a lot of things to say about what we do at Whitefield, how we do it, and why.

It seems like a great time to go back to that word important and talk about just why I think I’m right – that what we do in the Art room matters.

How Is This Going to Help Us Get a Job?

By now, my middle school experience is fading into distant memory. But I do remember one particular day.

As seventh or eighth graders, we were subjected to a few weeks of Home Economics. A world of new skills awaited, such as turning on kitchen appliances! The class was taught by a very kind, grandmotherly woman.

Being middle schoolers, many of us were pretty derelict in our practices of respect or basic human decency. And so, a few days in, a girl raised her hand and summoned as much sass as she could, which was a lot:

“How is this going to help us get a job?”

I don’t recall what answer the sweet grandma-teacher gave. It was a question that wasn’t looking for an answer. It was a question meant to question the whole purpose of school and assert that she had better things to do than learn how to cook her own food.

Even though that question from that student wasn’t meant to be answered, I think there’s a reason I remember that moment decades later.

I remember that moment for how shocking it was.

But I also remember it because it really is where we are as a culture. As a society, we are torn between why we even send kids to school. Young adult millennials now complain on social media that they graduated school without being equipped with “basic life skills.” But people in that same cohort raise the age-old question about why they are being made to “waste” their time on things like Math, Languages, and the most useless of all: History.

How is this going to help me get a job?

Spoiler Alert: Art Probably Isn’t Going to Help You Get a Job

We live in a visual culture. In reality, there are plenty of careers related to visual arts. It’s always a ton of fun for me to advise students who might be interested in pursuing an arts education or career path.

On the other hand, I take it as a sincere pleasure that I teach subjects – Art and Art History – that will, in almost all circumstances, not help kids get a job.

There is no practical purpose to knowing Art History.

A work of art is, by its nature, an object of contemplation, not usefulness.

If a student ever sasses me with that question, my answer, invariably, unabashedly is, you’re right. If I were at a public school whose Math and Reading scores were suffering, it would be my program (not Math or Reading) that would be first on the chopping block.

It is the pure, real-world impracticality. The fact that nothing I teach will come up in a job interview for 99.9% of students has forced me to think a lot about things like:

Why do we do this?

Why does it matter?

Why is it important?

The answers to those questions are really emblematic of why Whitefield exists at all in the first place.

What’s the Point of School at All?

If someone is asking why do we have to know this, he’s making a big assumption about why we send kids to school in the first place. He’s assuming that the purpose of school is utilitarian. Our purpose as humans is to get jobs, to participate in the economy, and school gets us ready to do that. Humans = cogs.

The sad thing is that middle schooler all those years ago was saying a lot more about her destiny than the worthiness of our teacher. She perceived that the value of her life would begin and end with her paycheck.

I’ve come to call Art and Art History quality of life subjects. And they illustrate why you send your kids to Whitefield, rather than human-cog training:

Learning and practicing things like Art helps students become more complete people.

These subjects open new avenues of pleasure to students throughout their lives.

Students become equipped through the subjects to care for our culture, churches and communities.

Creative work helps kids work out the meaning of being image-bearers of God the creator.

Students are being trained for wisdom. The subject matter is just the vehicle.

I could talk about the skills of problem-solving, of coordination, or other things that I’ve gained through Art. But the big picture of Art is the same for Math or Humanities or any other subject at Whitefield.

Is reading Homer going to help you get a job? Probably not.

When are you going to need to know Algebra? Probably nowhere except College Algebra. That’s not the point.

I don’t think any teacher, Math or otherwise, should ever try to justify their subject by answering the student who asks when they are going to need to know this.

Need is not the point.

God has filled this world, not just with bare necessities, but with superlatives. He was not content to make a drab, beige world. He filled the world with sound, colors and textures. And then He put people in the world, maybe to watch with pleasure as our eyes and ears kept reaching further and further, to marvel at the infinite reach of beauty around us.

The universe wasn’t made out of necessity.

It was made for enjoyment. For glory. It has no other purpose.

That’s why Art matters.

 

Click below to view our virtual Spring Art Show or stop by the foyer any time in April to view it in person!

art cta

Is your family interested in an education that forms people rather than cogs? Join us for our next Open House event on May 5th! Click below for details.

discover whitefield cta

3 Comments

  1. Malea Selby

    Thank you, Mr Appling. The last lines of your post remind me of the Westminster Catechism that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien have written that an aspect of being made in God’s image is the opportunity to create and enjoy beauty as He does. Thank you for teaching our children to create and enjoy various forms of art in God’s fascinating world.

    Reply
  2. Shirlene M Kazmaier

    I always love hearing your perspective! Thanks for these reminders!

    Reply
  3. Ron McClellan

    Well stated, Mr. Appling. As a life-long music educator I would like to retitle your essay “Why the Arts Matter in Today’s World”. Art and Music both speak to the inner being as nothing else can. In my view they both address quality of life elements that are necessary to fully develop us as God’s children. Thank you for your perspective and the creativity you impart to your students.

    Reply

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