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Art – It’s a unique journey for us all


Dr Matt Smith, Interim Head of Primary Education blogs about the personal value of art from childhood to adulthood and everyday learning.

Art is a vital element for humans. Every civilisation or society we’ve ever discovered or dug up has it. Dance, music, poetry, sculpture, song and visual art – seem to be innate human characteristics. And it is something that children delight in instinctively and intuitively.

Art allows them to explore their world, their culture, their heritage, themselves, the known and the alien - it can be simultaneously relaxing and stimulating, it fosters resilience, observation and care and allows children to develop creative problem-solving skills. Art is fun – fun to make and fun to explore.

It is vital that pupils are enabled to think and act creatively. There are many aspects to creativity, personal and social, and teachers aim to allow children to make and appreciate art for any number of reasons across multiple contexts.

To me, art is a journey. The final piece can be enjoyed in its own right, but the journey to get there is more exciting. As Co-ordinator for the Creative Arts in a school in Birmingham many years ago, I was thrilled to lead a project with parents and a local artist where we told stories and then built representations of them. It ended up with a wooden shed full of treasure boxes of stories told through art by every child in the school, from age 4 to 11, which we proudly wheeled up the steps of the Council House for display. We also commissioned a wrought iron storytelling tree for the school grounds and every child told their story again on golden leaves that hung from the branches. We didn’t plan to – but that’s where the journey took us.

Art helps us promote the understanding of difficult concepts through visual presentation, and allows us to further develop physical, linguistic and social skills as well as support our decision-making, risk-taking, and restlessly inventive selves. Crucially, art has been proven to improve critical thinking skills, and allows for analysis, evaluation, synthesis and creation. Through visual art we learn about colour, layout, perspective, and balance, connecting us more deeply with the social, cultural and natural worlds we inhabit, and allowing us to represent them – and what lies beyond their boundaries, limited only by the boundaries of the imagination.

The ultimate goal of art is to create something of value. If it holds value for the creator, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Holding a piece of your own original work in any medium is remarkably satisfying – and children feel it fivefold, unbroken yet by cynicism, criticism or self-reproach. Which is personally, something I think we could all learn from.

On the theme of exploring through art, why not visit British Art Show 9 – open now until April 10. To find out more click here.

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