Art In Action - Why Art?

Art is critical for educating the whole child

  • Arts education fosters brain development, especially of the creative and intuitive right brain functions.
  • Skills developed through art lead to better learning in other areas.
  • Students in quality art programs benefit from a wide range of positive effects including development of creativity and thinking skills, better self-expression, appreciation of art and music, learning about other cultures, and enriched personal satisfaction with their achievements. (Harland, Critical Links).
  • The arts provide experiences that cannot be duplicated by other means.
  • Art gives pleasure and meaning to our daily experience.
  • Insights from the arts are as important in giving meaning to the world as those from science and history.
  • Through art, students develop cultural awareness and appreciation of other viewpoints. (Welch)
  • Art develops social skills and teamwork. In art class, students are encouraged to share ideas and help each other.

Art is a basic part of a good education

  • Creating art helps children discover the unexpected possibilities of their creativity.
  • Art teaches critical thinking rather than getting the right answer.
  • Through art children learn that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
  • Art teaches students about subtleties.
  • Art teaches children to evaluate and make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
  • Art reminds us that the limits of our language do not define the limits of our thinking.
  • Art celebrates multiple perspectives and different ways to see and interpret the world.
  • Art teaches students to explore through and within possible responses.
  • Art empowers children to say what cannot be said.
  • Art enables us to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of doing.
  • Including art in the school curriculum shows students what adults know is important.

Adapted from Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications.

Skills developed in art increase achievement in other areas

Studies show that arts education improves academic, study, communication, and cognitive skills, impacting achievement in other areas.

  • SAT scores for students who studied the arts for 4 years were 103 points higher than students with no coursework or experience in the arts. (Arts Education Partnership, 1995).
  • 9th grade students in the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE) program, which integrates arts education with more traditional academic studies, were reading one full grade level ahead of their peers who were not involved in the program. (Deasy & Catterall)
  • 79.2% of 8th graders involved in the arts reported earning mostly As and Bs compared to 64.2% of students with no artistic involvement. (Deasy & Catterall).
  • “The schools that produced the highest academic achievement in the United States today are spending 20% to 30% of the day on the arts.” (IAEEA test 1988)
  • 41.5% of 10th graders with arts involvement scored in the top two quartiles on standardized tests compared to only 24.9% of their peers who were not involved in the arts. (Deasy & Catterall)
  • Elementary school students in Ohio who had a comprehensive art program showed significant gains on creativity measures, academic achievement, and appreciation of the arts. (Welch)
  • 920 elementary school students in 52 classrooms in Boston, Cambridge and Los Angeles who were given visual and performing arts lessons for three years outscored non-program students, earning significantly higher report card grades in the core subject areas of language arts, math, reading and social studies. (“Different Ways of Knowing” Welch)
  • 96 children aged 5-7 years who had supplementary art and music classes achieved higher standardized mathematics scores than children who received the school’s typical music and art training. (Rauscher)
  • “The world’s top academic countries place a high value on art and music education." (IAEEA)

Arts education fosters brain development

  • Scientists used functional MRIs to scan the brains of pianists and non-musicians of the same age and sex. They found that, compared to non-musicians, the brains of pianists are more efficient at skilled movements. (National Association for Music Education)
  • University of Montreal researchers used various brain imaging techniques to investigate brain activity during musical tasks and found that sight-reading musical scores and playing music both activate regions in all four of the cortex’s lobes; and that parts of the cerebellum are also activated during these tasks. (National Association for Music Education)

Arts education and the development of social skills

Catterall notes that instruction in the arts affects social skills including positive social behaviors, social compliance, ability to express emotion, courtesy, tolerance, conflict-resolution skills, ability to collaborate, and attention to moral development. Rauscher suggests that only by working together can students play a musical performance and thus, they learn that cooperation is a means to an end, which can be applied to other goals.

  • The Arts Alternatives Program was offered to 4th through 6th grade students in New Jersey urban schools serving disadvantaged students. The program included role-playing and story writing activities. Students reported significantly improved attitudes relating to self-expression, trust, self-acceptance and acceptance of others. (Welch)
  • A review of 57 research studies found that self-concept is positively enhanced through the arts. The relationship between music participation and self-concept was strongly in evidence. (Arts Education Partnership).
  • 5th grade band students derived satisfaction from peer and adult recognition through their band experience regardless of their perception of their talents. (Arts Education Partnership)
  • Texas secondary school students who participated in band, orchestra or choir reported the lowest lifetime incidence of substance abuse. (Children’s Music Workshop).
  • ‘With music in schools, students connect to each other better – greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism and reduced use of hurtful sarcasm.” (Support
  • Two studies among elementary school students receiving training in the Kodaly Music program which builds skills in individual and group singing found that students receiving more extensive Kodaly training showed greater improvements in classroom behavior and standardized reading scores. (Gardiner)

Interpretation of Research Results

Research is inconclusive concerning why art education results in such a significant difference in test results. It is evident that art education tends to be a characteristic of high-performing schools, and more highly educated or affluent parents often place great value on arts training. Studies clearly show the impact of arts on engaging and motivating students. The direct connection between participation in arts education and student achievement, although more difficult to prove, is also evident. This is particularly the case for low-achieving students. Studies suggest that, while overall, arts education is, at least, a strong contributing factor to academic achievement, more research is needed to determine what specifically about instruction in the arts improves learning.

Vaughn & Winner (Critical Links) urge caution when making causal claims for the arts. Residual family and background influences, rather than arts involvement, may also be responsible for the higher academic achievement of the students they studied. They suggest that higher-performing students have greater access to arts classes, and are more likely to participate in them. Many independent and affluent suburban school districts have been able to retain their arts programs, even in difficult financial times. Whereas inner-city schools, often with lower performing students, have not fared as well in retaining their arts programs, therefore those students are less likely to be taking art classes due to a lack of availability. However, many of the studies cited did make some attempt to control for income level.

Advocates suggest that educators should be careful about overemphasizing the causal relationship between arts education and student achievement in other subjects, “…the talk of learning mathematics through music or producing increased standardized test scores through the visual arts demeans the higher place of art in society, further shielding the intrinsic worth of the arts from the public eye.” (Catterall, Critical Links)

The arts are also important in reaching students who otherwise do not subscribe to traditional educational programs. They can attract students who have not achieved success in school in other areas. Many of the studies quoted refer to the academic and social benefits accruing to at-risk and failing students who are involved in various arts education programs. A 20-year program among low achieving students in 8 inner-city New York elementary schools that integrate visual and performing arts showed positive results in improving reading performance. (Welch) 41% of students at risk for high school dropout said that the arts kept them in school. (Barry, Critical Links) Research studies show that art-based reading instruction promotes better reading, largely through the added motivation that art offers for learning. (Burger & Winner, Critical Links)

Summary and Conclusions

Despite the cautions noted above, however, the consistent positive correlations between arts education and positive outcomes for students, including achievement, across so many studies cannot easily be ignored. There are many strong studies supporting the connections between drama and music with academic and social outcomes. Although there are not as many studies relating to the impacts of visual arts and dance, it would still appear that there is some relationship between these areas and academic and social outcomes. “However, we must be careful not to downplay the importance of music for the beauty and value it brings into the lives of children. We should not engage our children in musical activities solely because they encourage brain development.” (Rauscher)

In 1998 a group of ten leading educational organizations in the U.S., including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association and the National School Boards Association, adopted a Statement of Principles regarding “The Value and Quality of Arts Education”. This statement outlines the following seven principles:

  • Every student in America should have an education in the arts.
  • To ensure a basic education in the arts for all students, the arts should be recognized as serious, core academic subjects.
  • Education policy makers should incorporate the multiple lessons of recent research concerning the value and impact of arts education.
  • A comprehensive sequential curriculum and qualified arts teachers must be recognized as the basis and core for substantive arts education by all students.
  • Arts education programs should be grounded in rigorous instruction, provide meaningful assessment of academic progress and performance, and take their place within a structure of direct accountability to school officials, parents and the community.
  • Community resources that provide exposure to the arts, enrichment, and entertainment through the arts all offer valuable support and enhancement to an in-school arts education… however, these kinds of activities cannot substitute for a comprehensive, balanced, sequential arts education taught by qualified teachers.
  • We support those programs, policies, and practioners that reflect these principles.


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Beyette, Beverly, The Arts Come Back to Class”, The California Arts Project, September 2001.
California Alliance for Arts Education, Who teaches the visual and performing arts in California public schools?.
Children’s Music Workshop Online, Music Advocacy Facts and Statistics.
Deasy, Richard and James Catterall, Increasing Student Achievement Through The Arts. American Youth Policy Forum. 2000.
Deasy, Richard J., Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development. Arts Education Partnership. 2002. Note this document includes a large number of research papers, which were cited in this paper.
Gardiner, Martin F., Arts Training in Education, The Teaching Exchange. January 1999.
Music Education Coalition, Music Education Statistics and Information.
National Association for Music Education, The Value and Quality of Arts Education: A Statement of Principles.
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement. 2006.
National Association of Music, Music Education Facts and Figures.
National Association of State Boards of Education, The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the arts and foreign languages in America’s schools. 2003.
National Center for Education Statistics, Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000.
President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools. May 6, 2011.
Rauscher, Frances H., Can Music Instruction Affect Children’s Cognitive Development? September 2003. Eric Digest #ED480540.
Taylor, Bruce D., The Skills Connection Between the Arts and 21st-Century Learning. February 2011.
Welch, Nancy and Andrea Greene, Schools, Communities and the Arts: A Research Compendium. Morrison Institute for Public Policy. June 1995.