Last week I went to a really interesting lecture at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum about the way art education helps kids learn critical thinking skills that can be translated into strengths in other areas of study (particularly standardized tests). Basically the museum brought in students from two schools in the Boston area who have little to no art program, sat them down in front of a painting, and asked them questions like "What is going on in this picture?"and "Why do you think so?" Sort of like a big ink blot test. The kids became pretty articulate about aesthetics, just through the practice of verbalizing the things that they saw, interpreting artwork and bringing it in to their world. The skills that were most dramatically improved through this program were observation and interpretation.
These are, specifically, the skills that improved:
The ability to identify:
-What something is or is not; naming or identifying something
-Action, what someone is doing; concrete and explicit actions
-How it looks; sensory & physical aspects
-Features; what it's made of & how it's made
And the ability to interpret:
-The use or function of objects
-Implicit conditions, features, characteristics, feelings and emotions, mental states, status
-Identity (who people are)
-Actions or intentions
This may sound kind of technical, but the reason I post it is it got me thinking about school visits, and how a lot of these concepts are tied into the way we authors and illustrators talk about our work when we go to schools. It was kind of a great affirmation that there are real concrete benefits for kids who are exposed to art and the creative process. Almost every time I visit a school lately I hear about how arts programs are being cut and there is just not enough time to incorporate art into the curriculum. It gives me an extra sense of responsability when I show kids my paintings, knowing that this may be one of the few times art and art making is given a serious amount of time and attention.
There is a lot more information about the program here. And lots of great ideas for concepts to integrate into your visits fellow author/illustrators.