3 Important Life Skills That Art Classes Teach

September 19, 2017
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3 Important Life Skills That Art Classes Teach

This is a guest blog post from ArtAchieve

An art lesson is about much more than creating a satisfying piece of art. After all, art students probably won’t become artists, but they WILL learn valuable life skills.

Underneath all the art skills that an art class teaches, there lies another set of skills – LIFE SKILLS.  It’s these LIFE SKILLS that make teaching art so exciting. The list of life skills kids can learn in an art class is long, but here are three skills for a starting list:

Art Classes Teach Kids to be Makers  

I got my college education learning to analyze things: Shakespeare’s plays, the cells in plant tissue, and the philosophy behind a proposition. I was learning to think critically, to take things apart in order to understand them.

But there is another kind of thinking.

Call it design thinking, or maker thinking, or creative thinking, it’s all pretty much the same thing. It’s the thinking that builds things, that creates new things. It’s inventive thinking. Art teaches this second kind of thinking very well.

Art Classes Teach Kids to be Handy

Having spent most of my life doing design work for the theater, I’ve learned to weld, create faux finishes, draft construction drawings, build things, and do some electrical wiring. I’ve learned that it’s fun to take broken things – tools, furniture, toys, whatever – and fix them. Learning the joy of using our hands is a valuable skill. One of my scenic design students, now a lawyer, paints to relax. Another is asking for a table saw for his wedding; he loves to build things. In addition, art students quickly learn that there are “tricks” to doing things more easily.

A 6th grade teacher called one day to say that it was “such a gift” for her students to learn to use their left index finger to stop their pencil when doing pencil shading with their right hand. “It made things SO much easier!” she said. Her students had made a step in learning to be handy.

Art Classes Teach Persistence

Art classes teach us to persist when we draw a line or paint a stroke that we don’t like. Art lessons remind kids that “if you draw a line you don’t like, draw another one you DO like. In this way “mistakes” become new and interesting problems to solve.

I was reminded of recently this while painting a flower as an example for an art lesson. I had just added a background wash to the the picture, and something seemed wrong. The wash seemed flat, the picture looked garish, and it lacked unity. All the red was in the flower, and all the green was in the surrounding areas.

The flower with a green background

What to do?  The easy solution would have been to quit. But art classes teach us to persist, and in this case, as usual, the persistence paid off. After a few experiments, I decided to add orange to the wash, and suddenly the picture had unity and the green was warm and vibrant.

The flower with orange added to the background

Learning to think creatively, learning to be handy, and learning to persist are life skills that art classes teach kids whether we intend them to be taught or not. However,

  • If we remind our students that an art activity is an experiment, not merely a time to copy, and that it’s okay if the outcome surprises us,
  • If we model the joy of finding new ways to do things, and
  • If we remind students that they need to finish a project completely before they can decide whether they like it,

Then we begin to make the teaching and learning of these skills more intentional.