The Importance of Arts Education

Jan 19, 2003

by Vivian Doublestein

Ask most homeschooling moms about the fine arts curriculum they are using and the answers will range anywhere from “What arts curriculum?” to “Arts? I barely have time for math and science! Who has time for the arts?” Sadly, this scenario is repeated in countless households across America every year. But why should we care? Aren’t the arts just the icing on the cake? Aren’t they a nice “extra” to do if you have leftover time and money?

The answer to both of those questions is a resounding NO! If we care about our nation and the culture in which we live, we must stop seeing the arts as a non-essential element of life and begin to see it as a spiritual force that can change the world for God’s purposes, if we will use God’s methods and God’s plans to fulfill those purposes. Educationally, we must stop seeing the arts as a trifling extra that we do occasionally, and instead, begin to look on it as a basic ingredient in our educational philosophy.

 

The Biblical Basis for Studying the Arts

 

Created to be Creative

Let’s begin our look at the arts with what God’s Word has to say about them. The first thing we ever learn about God is that He is a creator (Genesis 1:1). He is the ultimate Creator who never makes the same thing twice. He is our example of creativity and an abundant source of untapped creative wealth and knowledge. Everything that God makes is good and, since He cannot lie, everything He creates speaks truth to a world that cannot see Him. We are told that even those who have never heard the Gospel are without excuse, for they can see His handiwork in nature (Romans 1:20, Psalms 119). God’s truths are seen clearly in His creation, yet man continues to obscure these truths by portraying art without meaning and art which is a lie. The great deceiver has worked his way into the minds, hearts and imaginations of men so that they use their creative gifts to pervert truth, rather than to portray God’s ways to a dying world. The consequences are the culture in which we live today, where the “art” we see around us portrays death, destruction and hopelessness instead of the truth about a God who loves us and died on our behalf to save us from this fallen state in which we find ourselves.

One of the next things we learn from Scripture is that we were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). We were created to be God’s image-bearers here on earth. Does this mean that we only reflect the parts of His character that we like and forget the rest? Or, do we rather reflect all of it, even the parts we may not understand or feel comfortable with? If we truly were created to be reflections of God the Creator, then we were all created to be creative. This element of God’s character was not reserved only for the chosen few who have decided to make creativity their career choice. As image-bearers, we all have a responsibility to create that which is good and that which portrays truth, thus bringing God greater glory through our creative gifts. If we believe we were created in God’s image, then we can no longer use the excuse, “I just can’t do it because I’m not creative.” Many of us need to repent and claim Philippians 4:13 which says, “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Unfortunately, Satan has convinced some in the church that they are incapable of true artistic thought, have no real talent and are unworthy of trying to use the gifts that lie buried and dormant in them. On the other hand, he has convinced many others in the church that the arts are totally evil and are something to be avoided at all cost. These extreme ideas have become powerful neutralizing forces for the God-given creativity in each of us.

 

God Created Some to be Artists

It is true that even though we were all created to be creative, some have greater artistic giftings than others. In Exodus 35 and 36 we learn that God called specific people to work in the arts. This means that before the foundations of the earth, God planned for certain people to be artists of varying types to fulfill His plans on the earth. Exodus 35:31 says that God chose Bezalel and filled him with His Spirit, skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts. In chapter 36 we read that Oholiab was also chosen and that Moses assigned them both to oversee the construction of the tabernacle. They created the master plan according to God’s word and showed other skilled people how to do the work. Yet an interesting point is noted in Exodus 36:6.

 

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp:‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ and so the people were restrained from bringing more because what they already had was more than enough to do all of the work.

 

Yes, there were those chosen few artistic types‘ who headed the project, as well as skilled craftsmen who worked under these leaders. Yet, according to verse 6, it appears that all of the people were involved in creating things for the Tabernacle, not just those who were creative. How did they learn to do these things if they weren’t trained, and why would they be trained unless God saw it as important for them as a society?

Much of the answer to these questions lies in the fact that the Israelites understood the power of the arts. Why else would Jehoshaphat send a choir into battle ahead of the army? This doesn’t make a lot of sense militarily, but they knew that in praising God with music, they would call down His glory and He would fight for them. Israel saw the arts as powerful and essential to their survival and so they were valued in their culture.

God thought that these gifts were so essential to the life of His people that the Levites lived together and were taken care of by the rest of the Israelites so that they could devote themselves full-time to the service of the Lord’s temple. The arts were a regular part of the Levite’s job and they took time, effort and a lot of work. It is not something you can do in a day or when you have extra time, but rather it is a gift that God values, and we must learn to cultivate these skills just like we cultivate math and spelling skills. Not everyone is a musician, but we can all learn the skills of music. Not everyone is an artist, but we can all learn to draw. Not everyone is an actor, but we can all learn to speak in front of an audience and present truths clearly. In this way, we not only reflect the creative nature of the Creator, but we are reflecting back excellence in what we do for Him.

In many churches today, the pastor is chosen with utmost care and the board would never dream of hiring someone who hadn’t been trained as a pastor. Yet, many of these same churches will take anybody who will volunteer as their music director and think that it is OK. Scripture tells us in I Chronicles 15:22 that Kenaniah was appointed the head Levite in charge of the singing because he was skillful at it. His brothers were appointed along with him, but because of the skill and ability which God had given to him, Kenaniah was put in charge. We need to select our artists as carefully as we select our pastors, for God sees this as an important aspect of service to Himself.

 

God’s School of the Arts

God not only called certain people to be artists, He prescribed how they were to be trained as well. I Chronicles 25:1-8 tells us of the music schools of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun where learning came the “homeschool way” through mentorship and fathers teaching their children. Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun were under the supervision of King David, and they in turn supervised the teaching that occurred. However, the leaders and those with specific skills weren’t the only ones who performed. Later on in the same chapter we are told that the students, adults, teachers and children all cast lots for their duties and performed them together for the glory of God in His Temple with great skill. This could only come from good teaching and a lot of practice!

Andrew Sievright, in an article entitled “What is the Church Doing with the Powerful Gift of Art,” made this stunning statement:

 

In Old Testament times, the leaders of Israel understood the spiritual power of music and worship, so they stewarded their musicians by bringing them to live at the Temple site. As they lived and learned with other music ministers, they were challenged, trained and nurtured in spiritual and technical excellence by Asaph and Heman. The religious leaders of that day provided structures to help the Levites of Israel reach their potential of using their gifts powerfully for God. In Jerusalem alone, 4,000 musicians and 288 singers lived and trained in the Temple ( I Chronicles 23:5, 25:7-8). By today’s population comparisons of the Church worldwide, that means the equivalent of 694,000 Christian musicians were being embraced, supported and trained by the Church for the purpose of declaring God’s glory.

 

If we did this just one time, we would change our world for we would be sending out young people who used the arts for God’s purposes and who spoke the truth with excellence. Since the church has not kept pace with the arts, it has lost its credibility, as well as its ability to produce artists who are taken seriously in our culture today. Our only hope is to begin now to instruct the children not only in the technical aspects of the arts, but also in God’s purposes for the arts in our society.

 

The Educational Basis for Arts Education

In an article from the Rutherford Institute in January 1997, comes this statement:

 

The British Journal “Nature,” according to UPI, reported a two-year study of first and second-graders who participated in a special arts and music program which emphasized sequenced skill development. Participating students subsequently outmatched their peers not involved in the program. An author of the study pointed to past studies which suggested the brain benefits from music and noted, ‘The early Greeks were correct: there’s very little distance between math and music.

 

In an article on the SAT, we find that students who study the arts out perform those who don’t. In 1993, SAT takers who had four years study in the arts scored fifty-three points higher on the verbal portion of the test and thirty-seven points higher on the math portion than did the students who had no arts coursework.

In a study done comparing children ages two to ten, half of the group were given lessons in computers and the other half were given music lessons. Those who had the music lessons increased their intelligence quotient 35% over those who had no music training.

In an article published in Cooking Light, Michele Meyer wrote:

 

Almost any sort of artistic revelry increases your body’s immune system. In a study of more than 12,000 Swedes, those who frequently patronized art shows, movies, plays, and concerts were 36% less likely to have died within a nine year period than those who attended such functions rarely. Even elevator music helps! Levels of IgA, one of the body’s first defenses against respiratory and other infections, rose 14% in students who heard thirty minutes of Muzak’s smooth instrumental jazz

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

So now that you know scriptural and educational reasons for pursuing the arts, where do you start? That was my question thirteen years ago when we first started homeschooling. Being a musician myself, I knew that the arts were an important part of my children’s education. Being new to homeschooling, I looked long and hard to find a curriculum that taught everything I wanted my children to know about the arts. Unfortunately, I never found what I was looking for. What I did find was that the majority of homeschoolers were ignoring this area completely, and I was shocked. I kept thinking, “This is no better than the public system which we just pulled our kids out of. At least there they had music and art once a week!”

I became extremely frustrated knowing that I had given up my music career in order to homeschool my children, but then I saw homeschool parents ignoring the very area which I saw as vital to the education process. After a time of great struggle, prayer and reflection, God answered my questions with a vision for an arts program where the mentorship concept could work. I learned through all of my searching that parents really didn’t want to leave out the arts, but they simply didn’t know how or what to do since most of them were not trained in the arts themselves. I took the model which God gave for the building of the Tabernacle and the service of the Temple and applied it to the education of homeschooled children in the arts. Those who were gifted in the arts would teach the children of those who were not gifted. As a result, more and more children would be trained and a new force would begin to grow which could change our culture. The result was the beginning of The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts.

If you don’t have a Master’s Academy in your area, you can start by sending your children to trained professionals. Provide private or group music instruction. Many homeschool support groups offer art classes or drama programs during the year. Take advantage of them.

If you live in a remote area of our country and don’t have a lot of artistic programs to choose from, there are many things you can do at home to nurture the creator in your children such as playing good music. We know from recent research that Mozart is especially helpful when learning math because it is so logical and orderly. Try playing classical music in the background as your children do their schoolwork each day.

Read biographies of artists, musicians and writers aloud to your children. If they are the creative type, they will appreciate learning about others who have lived life like they have.

Check out books on art and artists as you study history. Use each historical study as a jumping off place for a unit study of the art of the period. Children just enjoy sitting and looking at art books for fun because of the colorful pictures and great beauty that is portrayed in them.

Go to a museum. Much of what is in the museums today is worthy of the junk pile, but if you see a good exhibit coming into your town or a town close to you, make an effort to take your family. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about it, there are docents at the museum who do and they will often offer tours of the exhibits, particularly if it is a traveling exhibit.

Go to a concert. There are often free Sunday afternoon concerts in the park, or you can sometimes sit in on the symphony’s dress rehearsals for a much lower ticket price. Obtain the program ahead of time and read about the composers who will be represented if at all possible.

Take the time to go to a play, ballet or the opera. You will definitely need to be cautious about what you see, especially with young children, but they will enjoy the opportunity to dress up and go to a big event such as The Nutcracker at Christmas time, or some of the traveling Broadway shows that might come to your area.

Don’t ever look at these field trips as a day where no school was done. On the contrary, this is an exciting way to pique your child’s interest in the arts and instruct them on proper etiquette and decorum in society at the same time. In an essay by Dr. Leland Ryken entitled “The Creative Arts” he makes this wonderful statement of purpose for “wasting time” with the arts.

 

Can a Christian in good conscience do something as non-utilitarian as spending an afternoon at an art gallery or an evening at a concert? Can a student justify the time spent taking a course in fiction writing or painting or music composition? In a Christian scheme of things, the answer is clear. To be artistically creative, and to enter into the creativity of others, is to exercise the image of God within oneself.

 

Is there a higher calling than this? May God bless you and your family as you seek to be creative for the Creator.

 

Vivian Doublestein M. Mus., is the Executive Director of The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts, Inc.

 

 

 

 

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