WAM: YAM Edition

By Molly Braswell
Learning and Interpretation Assistant

I was inspired to write the inaugural post of our newest blog series, Why Art Matters (WAM), by a visit to museum’s Youth Art Month (YAM) exhibition. (Plus, WAM and YAM rhyme, and that’s fun.) Over 100 Maine students, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, have their artwork displayed on the PMA’s fourth floor…and it’s incredible.

So why does art matter in school? What do students gain from being exposed to the arts at an early age?

There are a lot of studies and explanations for how art can benefit students; however, the reasoning and rationale doesn’t always have to be scientific to prove meaningful. Students who take art classes, or who are involved in school plays or band, could be influenced in different, positive ways. Not everyone will take an art class and want to grow up to become an artist, but it’s clear that the skills and thought processes explored through the arts can be beneficial down the road.

There are actually a LOT of great things that art can do for students of all ages. Here are just a few of them:

● Students’ exposure to the arts–including drama, music, and dance–often leads to improvement in math, writing, and reading.

● Art education is related to: higher test scores, higher attendance rates, higher graduation rates, and lower disciplinary rates.

● Art education improves students’ abilities to problem-solve and to make decisions–teaching children that problems can have more than one solution
 and that questions can have more than one answer. It also shows children that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

● The arts help build confidence and expose students to other cultures, ideas, and points of view. One of the large lessons in art is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

● Art teaches students to think in ways that aren’t always addressed in other classes like how to observe, innovate, self-reflect, improve, and evaluate.

● Arts integrated curriculum can increase students’ motivation and collaboration, and create a sense of community in the classroom.

Do you have positive memories of art in school?  Do you think that it’s important that the arts be a part of current K-12 curriculum?

If you are looking for more, check out these articles:
Study: Arts education has academic effect,” by Tamara Henry, USA Today
Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain: Findings and Challenges for Educators and Researchers from the 2009 Johns Hopkins University Summit” by Mariale Hardiman, Ed.D., Susan Magsamen, Guy McKhann, M.D., and Janet Eilber
Art for our sake: School arts classes matter more than ever–but not for the reasons you think” by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, The Boston Globe
Renaissance in the Classroom,” Edited by Gail Burnaford, Arnold Aprill, and Cynthia Weiss, Harvard Business Review


  1. Sarah Whitling
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    The arts are part of human nature - from the paleolithic cave paintings to Picasso’s Guernica. Art is not only a valid form of human expression, it tells the story of human history. To forget its significance in today’s education is to erase its validation for a future. That’s not to say that art’s existence will be demolished; art will never die. And neither will its transformative nature.

    I strongly believe that art in education should not be validated solely through its beneficial factors on other disciplines (math, reading, science, etc). Practice in the arts provides students with other constructive skills - life skills. Indeed, the arts instill confidence in students, as the nature of studio art forces students to take risks. It forces students to collaborate and work together, instilling tolerance for diversity (in ethnicity, gender, age, opinions, etc.). The 21st century is global and competitive. An innovative, risk-taking generation is necessary to guide our nation into an increasingly competitive economy. Current employers want people with creative solutions. Practice in the arts allows students to think outside the box and problem-solve creatively. Instilling these practices in students early assures a motivated future generation.

    Great post, Molly! I hope this discussion continues.

  2. Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Molly, I think you nailed it when you wrote:

    “It also shows children that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.”

    Verbal language historically came rather later to our human ancestors. Before that we mostly visualized the world with images in our minds. At its root, humans experience their lives mostly through “feeling toned images” (a phrase I borrow from Carl Jung).

  3. Marlise Swartz
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    My suggestion is pretty simplistic, but, I think, relevant. Last weekend I took my 5 yr old grandson to the PMA. This was his first visit to the PMA, but not his first visit to an art museum. We have visited the uUniv of Maine art museum in Bangor several times, starting when he was just over age three…and now he asks to visit. So I was very disappointed that the PMA does not have a child friendly experience available. We did spend 2 hrs in the PMA…but it could have been much more valuable. I would be interested in talking with someone about this. My granddaughter, age 7, has been going to the art museum in Bangor even longer. I want them to learn about and enjoy art starting at a young age, and I know that is possible,

  4. jackie
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi Marlise,
    Please visit once more with your grandchildren! We invite you to try the Stop and Look stations, located in galleries throughout the PMA. These interactive learning tools are designed for your child to take the lead! Our new Family Voices cell phone tour features audio of children in conversation with their parents, discussing works in the museum’s collection. And, our new PMA Family Space in the McLellan House lets children and their accompanying adults enjoy the museum through an artist-designed space just for them. When you go to look through the Lois Dodd exhibition, you can experience the exhibition with a special viewfinder that fits in your hand and gives you a chance to imagine and wonder about the choices made by the artist.

    We continue to work to improve family experiences at the PMA and are open to any suggestions!

    Kind regards,
    Julia Einstein (Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning)

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