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Why Art Education?

What does art education do for the individual and for society? Why do we teach art? How does art contribute to education at all levels? There are many good answers to these questions, but three stand out as crucial in today's social and economic climate. We believe that art-and therefore art education-means three things that everyone wants and needs.

Art Means Work
Beyond the qualities of creativity, self-expression, and communication, art is a type of work. This is what art has been from the beginning. This is what art is from childhood to old age. Through art, our students learn the meaning of joy of work-work done to the best of one's ability, for its own sake, for the satisfaction of a job well done. There is a desperate need in our society for a revival of the idea of good work: work for personal fulfillment; work for social recognition; work for economic development. Work is one of the noblest expressions of the human spirit, and art is the visible evidence of work carried to the highest possible level. Today we hear much about productivity and workmanship. Both of these ideals are strengthened each time we commit ourselves to the endeavor of art. We are dedicated to the idea that art is the best way for every young person to learn the value of work.

Art Means Language
Art is a language of visual images that everyone must learn to read. In art classes, we make visual images, and we study images. Increasingly, these images affect our needs, our daily behavior, our hopes, our opinions, and our ultimate ideals. That is why the individual who cannot understand or read images is incompletely educated. Complete literacy includes the ability to understand, respond to, and talk about visual images. Therefore, to carry out its total mission, art education stimulates language-spoken and written-about visual images. As art teachers we work continuously on the development of critical skills. This is our way of encouraging linguistic skills. By teaching pupils to describe, analyze, and interpret visual images, we enhance their powers of verbal expression. That is no educational frill.

Art Means Values
You cannot touch art without touching values: values about home and family, work and play, the individual and society, nature and the environment, war and peace, beauty and ugliness, violence and love. The great art of the past and the present deals with these durable human concerns. As art teachers we do not indoctrinate. But when we study the art of many lands and peoples, we expose our students to the expression of a wide range of human values and concerns. We sensitize students to the fact that values shape all human efforts, and that visual images can affect their personal value choices. All of them should be given the opportunity to see how art can express the highest aspirations of the human spirit. From that foundation we believe they will be in a better position to choose what is right and good.

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We in the National Art Education Association are committed to this three-part statement about the importance of art instruction for America's children. Our specific recommendations for school art programs are set forth in Purposes, Principles, and Standards for School Art Programs and in Design Standards for School Art Facilities. In addition, our various publications describe in detail the views of leading art educators about the issues confronting the art teaching profession.

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