How the Arts Affect Student Learning

Is learning in the arts good for a student? Does it make a student a better citizen (Defined, perhaps, as a person who is thoughtful, diligent and a good problem solver)? A number of studies have, in fact, been conducted to support this premise. Researchers have shown that taking art classes increases young people’s academic achievements and contributes to their positive social development. Students of art also perform higher on standardized tests. Furthermore, these students are found to have developed skills and habits of mind that make for better thinkers and workers.


The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum is currently exhibiting high school artwork from our local schools--public, private and home. I wondered how some of these young artists would describe the value of studying art. Why take art classes in high school when it is not a required subject? What effect does it have on your study habits and manner of thinking?

Helen Bice has been interested in art since she was a small child. A senior at Ridgewood High School, she won a First Place in Painting for A Walk, a small watercolor with a Japanese minimalist feeling about it. Applying only a few brush strokes, Helen created an airy, intriguing painting. Helen’s parents, both painters who attended Pittsburgh Art Institute, nurtured Helen to love making art. Like her parents, she loves to paint and hopes to continue taking art courses at COTC next year. Art is personally valuable to Helen because it helps her relieve stress and express her emotions. It’s a way to calm and center herself, a necessary prerequisite for thinking ideas through.

Jessica Davis from River View High School also won a First Place. Her mixed media work, a mosaic using small colored paper, was a self-portrait that included a photograph of herself. The picture is light-hearted and whimsical. Jessica, a senior, has been drawing since she was young. She loves taking art classes because they involve more than the brain. They require thinking and doing, and are just more fun. She appreciates her teacher, Malinda Baker, who encourages everyone and takes the time to work with students individually. Mrs. Baker teaches students art appreciation so they learn not only art techniques such as drawing and blending colors, but also social studies. Every year one of Mrs. Baker’s classes studies ancient Egyptian art, and the students use this knowledge to recreate their own Egyptian art.

As a child, Coshocton High School senior Jared Cotterman always had a sketchbook in his hand. He was so busy drawing that he didn’t have time to do the mundane, like clean his room. Jared has several works on display at the Museum. His Variations on “Dreams” won an Honorable Mention in Drawing. Rendered in colored pencil, Jared’s picture has a fantasy theme—a human-sized, grasshopper is approaching a human-like creature that is asleep on a bed. Jared catalogs the benefits of art learning like a child at an amusement park who is lining up his favorite rides to take. It’s how he best expresses himself. It fosters creative thought. He likes the way it involves problem solving. Myrtle Beall, Coshocton’s art teacher, assigns abstract assignments and lets her students interpret the assignment. Jared likes the freedom and creativity this allows him. Her assignments push students to think outside the box. When asked if he saw a connection between art and his other classes, Jared said that art teaches a sense of logic, perspective and how things fit together. He uses these same skills in math. Jared is planning to attend Capital University next year as a music major. For Jared, creating art is like making music. Both push him to understand all the components of a problem, to work hard and experience the joy of creating.

Sarah Meek began drawing at four years old. When she was in third grade and taking art classes from Vivian Williams, art blossomed into her passion. Her mixed media piece, Liv Tyler, won a Second Place in the Teen-Age Talent exhibit. To create this portrait of a very glamorous lady, Sarah has cut thin strips of writing text from magazines and pasted them on the paper. These strips create texture and shading to her black and white picture. It’s an interesting technique. Sarah enjoys the art-making process because it hollows out a peaceful time for her. She becomes absorbed in the process, blotting out outside noises and inside mumblings. She, like Jared, credits Mrs. Beall with teaching her more than skills and technique. Mrs. Beall encouraged Sarah to take risks and to reveal herself, through her artwork. Sarah used to strictly follow the rules. Now she pushes herself and her skills to make something all her own. Sarah says that art ties into everything, especially history. Ancient Greece becomes more than the Trojan horse and the story of Troy—it is the people and their art, which reveals their culture. Art also helps with math skills and teaches one to organize time.

If you want to see the artwork these young people are creating, check out Teen-age Talent on exhibit through May 15th at the Museum. If you want to find out what they are learning as they study art, just ask one of the artists in the show. Is learning in the arts good for a student? Does it develop a better citizenry? I’m convinced!

Johnson Humrickhouse Museum
300 N. Whitewoman Street
Coshocton, OH 43812
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