|What are the educational values
associated with studying art?
In the preceding sections the personal and social functions of art were discussed. Art plays an essential role in sustaining and altering culture. It enhances almost everything that humans manufacture. Art is so important in our personal lives and so fundamental as a vehicle of expression and communication that individuals and societies could hardly exist without art. But how does involvement in art contribute to cognitive development and to our growth and well-being? In other words, how does the study of art contribute to the goals of formal education?
How does studying art contribute to developing one's intellectual powers?
Being educated in a democracy implies developing abilities to function as a civilized person who can think and feel beyond the dictates of the popular culture. Autonomous decision making requires a well-developed intellect. Using one's mind, i.e., engaging in cognitive activity, includes acquiring and utilizing the storehouse of mental images that are the basis for concept formation and comprehending what one experiences. Art can make an important contribution to building this storehouse because it is an image-centered phenomenon. Making or responding to art requires that one be involved in either producing or decoding a variety of images.
For instance, understanding complex concepts such as tension, symmetry, and abstraction is dependent upon possessing relevant images (mental pictures or percepts) for these concepts. These images can be acquired by producing them in appropriate art activities or by observing them in particular works of art.
Picture-making and picture-study involve using one's imagination; i.e., engaging in generating or identifying images that are associated with particular ideas by relating percepts to concepts. Relevant mental pictures are developed and stored through appropriate learning experiences which include observing examples that incorporate these images and engaging in discussions that clarify similarities and differences.
For instance, creating an illustration for the mythological figure Paul Bunyan requires that one imagine his enormous size, as well as body and facial structure and the design of his clothing. As one produces such an illustration, images are created that reflect and define the following list of complex concepts: scale, proportion, gesture, space, illusion, power, strength, and asymmetry.In other words, as one engages in this art activity, opportunities are provided to increase one's comprehension and repertoire of important and essential concepts.
Responding to works of art requires the use of one's imagination to make sense out of the difference between what is implied and what actually exists (colored pigments on a canvas, carved or chiseled wood, etc.). Both images and concepts (ideas) are represented through the use of signs and symbols. Actual objects such as eyes or houses or trees are not observed in works of art.
Shapes and other visual qualities are fashioned to serve as signs for objects. We may recognize a particular rendering of a shape as a sign for a hand. If it is depicted in a certain way, as a fist for instance, the shape may also function as a symbol for power or strength. Transforming mentally shapes, colors and textures into signs and symbols is a complex intellectual task requiring both analytical and critical thinking.