On Art and Music

“Art doesn’t transform. It just plain forms.”
– Roy Lichtenstein

It’s unfortunate, to me, that one of the first things to get cut with school budgets are the arts.  Especially music classes.

If there’s one thing I know, the best way to connect with teenagers, or to engage them in an activity, is to use music.  If you look around you it’s hard not to notice that they’re attached to their iPods 24/7, and this isn’t exactly a new trend.  I remember in high school, back when we still used discmen that looked like this:

Photo Credit: Sony
I had this exact one

and had just figured out how to make mp3 CDs so we could finally have more than 13 songs to a playlist.  Back when they were called “Mixes” and not “playlists”.  My friend and I finally got our hands on a new pair of split headphones, the kind that go in your ear – and being that we both had long hair they could hide behind – we would sit next to each other with a an earbud apiece and listen to Your Body is A Wonderland during History lectures.  One of the most productive periods of day during homeroom in 7th grade was when we were allowed to work quietly at our desks – with music playing. Every day someone brought a CD in, and there was no fighting over what people wanted to listen to – we all agreed that the privilege of playing our own music in class was worth listening to things we didn’t like every once in a while.  One of the most popular literature classes at the local college the first year I was there was “The Poetry of Bob Dylan”.  So it seems a bit foolish to me that instead of utilizing music in classrooms, we’re getting rid of it.

“With a subject matter as broad as life itself, the arts easily relate to aspects of almost everything else that is taught.”
– Charles Fowler

Think about it, some of the songs that means the most to you now are probably songs that came from your most formative years.  They can transport you back there in an instant, with just a few notes on a guitar.  I bet most people can even admit to liking songs now that they hated when they first came out, just because they remind them of being young.

Teenagers have a very intense desire to express themselves and be creative.  What better, and more appropriate way, than with music?  Or if not music, how about art? Photography?  Home-ec?  Acting?

Obviously not everyone can grow up to be Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Ansel Adams, Denzel Washington or even Martha Stewart.  But not everyone can grow up to be Brett Favre either, and that’s not quelching sports programs.  And let’s face it, sports are not the only way to keep our kids off the streets or from getting in trouble.  In fact, sports can even cost money for those who participate, so they don’t always help the students who need it the most.  Not only that, but especially once you hit high school, sports are significantly more effective at keeping boys busy than girls.  I can’t help but wonder what would happen to teen pregnancy rates if there were more options for everyone.  Would they start to return to a number closer to what they were back when many of the arts were considered requirements instead of electives? What about teen crime or depression rates?

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”
– Francisco Goya

Yes, it’s foolish to think that arts can fix everything.  But, we’ve all heard the stories of what young people are capable of when they are inspired.  They truly can change the world.  However, it’s up to us to give them an opportunity to realize that.  To become engaged and interested enough in learning and creating that they can’t wait to share their talents.  Personally, I think we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice by letting such a huge number slip through the cracks each year.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  – Pablo Picasso 

If you’d like to help make a difference, find out about what VH1 is doing to Save The Music, and how you can join in their efforts.

[One of the first mixes I made in high school (sophomore year, circa spring 2003).  I named it Ed and made a copy for my best friend and called it “Ed Jr.”  Eventually it became quite popular and got passed around the school, and Ed had many generations of children.]

Did you have the arts available to you when you were in school?  How did that effect your school experience?  How much of an influence did music have on you, growing up?

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12 thoughts on “On Art and Music

  1. When I considered getting an M.Ed, I knew before I even applied what my thesis would be – that anyone can learn anything, when set to music. I still believe it to be true.

    I have horror stories about my art and music teachers, but… I think it is crucial that children learn and be surrounded by both (um… not horror-inducing teachers…). “Save the Music” is fantastic, and the music from some of those classes is amazing.

    Great post!

    • “anyone can learn anything, when set to music.”

      So well said! There was actually just a piece on the news the other night about a local college professor who has become quasi-famous for setting a bunch of his lectures to music, and making songs out of his study materials.

      And yes, I’m with you – I had a negative experience with my high school choir teacher which lead me to dropping the class. I imagine I would have stayed interested much longer had that not happened! But in general, I agree, it’s so important that students have access to these classes ;)

  2. I quit band after Grade 9 because the teacher was changing and I knew my talent alone woudln’t get me through – I’d actually have to practice. I so regret that. Though, I did take a random arts and crafts class which I loved. I took cooking class all through high school, loved it, and refer back to what I learned constantly over ten years later. Music and arts were readily available in my high school along with mechanics, metal and wood work and so on. I believe the school now also offers hair dressing and more. it’s the elementary schools that are worrisome… They seem to drop the “specialists” in PE, Music, etc, a lot faster and then rely on the classroom teachers to include that in the daily lessons. I’m lucky to be in a school where we rearrange out budget, etc, do everythign we can to keep our music specialist as a priority, but it’s TOUGH. Go, arts, go! I won’t even get into the music part of your prompts….I’d be writing for pages.

    • Wow, I’m so jealous of your school experience! When the budget cuts hit here, the electives sort of…splintered off to the different schools. I was lucky enough to attend the one that was well known for the arts, and got a lot of attention for their theatre and music programs. There were maybe two or three cooking classes? One for each “level”. And about the same for photography – it was nearly impossible to get into those classes, and they were the most sought after. Another school got wood shop and auto shop. Another got the television/radio programs because they’re situated near the community center where the public broadcasting station is produced. The other school got in-school childcare for the students with families. I don’t think any of the schools have an arts and crafts class, or a traditional home-ec type option. It’s such a shame!

      I’m so in awe of the hard work that teachers do to provide their students with as many options as they can on such a limited budget. Honestly, I feel like the system would be suffering a lot more right now if those in the field of education weren’t so dedicated and didn’t manage to do some creative rearranging to find room for everything. Thank you for all you do!

      • Thank you for your acknowledgement! We do it because we love to and believe in it. But it sure is easier when we have more resources.

        Oh the days of the discman and secret ear buds during class. :)

  3. I love that Pablo Picasso quote. Ha! and as for Discmans I remember those and Walkmans. Ahhhhh so sad that they no longer have those classes in school. Art and orchestra were some of the funnest classes. Violin … three years. Glad to say that I was able to rock Beethoven and Mozart.

    • It really is sad! I was like you, and was lucky enough to go to schools where the arts were considered, well, essential. But there were three other high schools in the area and none of them had those kinds of classes readily available. I can’t really imagine what that would have been like. Although I did choir instead of orchestra, I agree, those were always the classes that I looked forward to the most!

      Also, yes, I remember walkmans as well! And to make a mix you had to record all of your favorite songs off of the radio! It’s weird how old that makes me feel now…when they first came out they were like, the coolest things ever.

  4. Mom was a music teacher, so I learned to play very (very) early in life, and music has been there as long as I can remember. When we lived in Los Angeles, she taught in the inner city and has many (many) stories about how music changed the lives of high-risk kids in that environment. It can literally be a life saver.

    In high school, I “majored” in theatre (we had an amazing drama department), and in college I was a film and TV major (while still working with the theatre department), so the arts have played a huge role in my life (in some ways I still can’t believe I work in Corporate America all these years).

    I think the arts, literature of all forms especially, is crucial to broadening minds, and I can’t help but wonder if some politics isn’t aimed at removing that broadening experience. An ignorant populace is easier to control.

    • I think your first two paragraphs speak to the truth of your last one…The arts really are such an essential part of true learning and understanding. It’s unfortunate that people in politics either can’t see this, or do see it and attempt to stifle it. Of course, it’s not just those higher up in politics, as a lot of the decision about funding comes down to the voters and taxes. Which is why I have such a hard time understanding how the arts aren’t getting funded. Most people who are at the polls right now had the benefit of arts in school, and probably owe a lot of their education to that fact. So why they consistently vote against the funding for it sure beats me.

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