What are the educational values
associated with studying art? [3]

How does art contribute to learning
about the past and other cultures?

Becoming historically and culturally literate is greatly facilitated by studying the art of the world, cutting across both cultures and time. By being exposed to images associated with various cultural contexts and periods of history, our understanding is maximized.

Concepts and phrases as diverse as Paleolithic and Neolithic societies, tribal rituals, Pharaonic culture, classical ideals, Moslem and Christian values, medieval spirituality, eastern monasticism and asceticism, and royalty and aristocracy would be vague indeed without the existence of relevant images that convey something of their character and substance. Such images are embodied in works of art that have been created within almost every known human society covering a span of some 50,000 years.

Our understanding of ancient civilizations and tribal societies, as well as historical periods in the East and West, such as Dynastic China, Medieval Europe and the Renaissance, is greatly facilitated through the images presented in relevant works of art.

Significant works of art not only reveal something of the physical character and the dominant social values of the period or culture in which they were produced, they also convey or transmit a "feeling" for the culture or period.

For instance, studying the enormous bronze-copper Amida Buddha in Kamakura, created in the 13th century in what was then the capitol of Japan, not only informs us about how Buddha's aristocratic birth and spiritual insight were symbolized (elongated ear lobes and a dot on his forehead, respectively), such study also generates empathy for the great reverence for Buddha reflected in this extraordinary sculpture. The Amida was beloved because he preached that one need not be an institutional religionist to achieve salvation; living a moral life was all that was required.

The Amida Buddha, known as the Kamakura Diabutsu, was cast in copper by the Japanese sculptor Ono Goroeman in 1252. It is 40 feet tall, weighs some 100 tons and has a circumference of 96 feet at its base. The divinity is portrayed in the traditional meditative position with hands in lap, palms up, and fingers touching.

How does studying art move one beyond our pervasive "pop" culture?

Acquiring the skills of impression and expression associated with being art-educated enables one to move beyond an often trite and banal pop-consumer culture to the appreciation of works of art that are among the highest forms of human achievement. These are the "masterpieces" that have been produced across history and cultures.

If art provides us with opportunities to be involved both intellectually and emotionally, the more substantial the stimulus the more profound will be our response. This is why it is essential to be exposed to the "best" our world has to offer. The phrase "garbage in, garbage out" applies not only to the computer, it also refers to the way human behavior evolves. In addition, learning to understand and appreciate the best the world has to offer will acquaint us with significant creators, some of whom may share our ethnicity, which impacts positively upon our feelings of self-worth.

An art education that is mentally challenging and not merely craft oriented, has very important roles to play in cognitive development. Enriching one's store of images and cultivating perceptual acuity and the skills of expression and impression, while reviewing the history of human civilization through its legacy of art forms and master works, contribute uniquely and significantly to the development of the intellectual power needed to function productively in the 21st century.