Why Art Really Matters to Me

posted on Aug 2, 2019

To kick off Youth Art Month last March, NAEA President Kim Definbaugh encouraged members to post photos and stories of Why Art Matters with the tag #VisualArtsEdMatters. I thought about it and realized that the best instruments we have for art advocacy and evidence for the need to protect time and resources in the visual art classrooms are our students themselves. So, as students entered my artroom the next morning, I asked them to each write the reason that art matters to them, personally.

An embellished suitcase contains students’ Why Art Matters to Me cards.An embellished suitcase contains students’
Why Art Matters to Me cards.

I told students I didn’t want them to necessarily write about our class, or about a big art idea, but I wanted them to think about how they personally benefit from experiencing, looking at, and making art. I also asked them not to say what they thought I wanted them to say, but to really speak from their own uniquely wonderful hearts. I told them I would be sharing their responses anonymously and asked them to put their initials on the back of the cards.

A Suitcase Comes in Handy
I placed an embellished suitcase open at the front of the class where students were asked to submit their cards when they finished writing and before they began working on their art. The response was overwhelming. Each student took this activity seriously, some asking if they could use markers to decorate their cards and others asking for more than one card to continue their thoughts.

As they placed their cards in the suitcase, I tried to read them to myself, but had to stop because, well, I got a little emotional. No two statements were alike, but the running theme seemed to indicate that art provides a way for students to express the feelings they simply cannot communicate with words. Another theme was that art is the place where they can come to relieve the stresses that surround them in the outside world. Here are a few excerpts:

Art matters to me because when I was in Pre-K, I found out that I was color blind, and art was my way to show everyone that being color blind is not bad if you have a passion for art.

Art matters to me because, without art, there would be no way to express myself, no way of communication. It would be like stitching my mouth together, forcing me to stay trapped in my own body screaming out for someone to let me out...Because with art, I am free, I am safe, and I don’t have to feel the weight of the world alone.

Art matters to me because it is a simple way of expressing how you feel about something when you don’t know how to say it. Art has helped me a lot in my life. When you go through tough times, art can make it better.

It gives me something to do when I am going through place to go and some a rough time. When I am drawing, I can just forget about every single thing that is happening in the world.

I began posting two of these responses a day, along with how the idea for writing them came about. Many art teachers began tagging other art teachers about adopting this in their own classrooms. I reminded them to tag their students’ writing with #VisualArtsEdMatters.

As I reflected on this simple yet powerful writing exercise with students, I was reminded of how important it is to provide a place where students are free to create their own unique statements with visual art and not just copy someone else’s ideas. I was also reminded of how important it is to offer choices to students when it comes to art-making. It is here in my classroom that they come to learn, to process, and to express what some find difficult to say any other way, and this is why teaching art matters to me.

Melody Weintraub teaches Middle School Art at Briarcrest Christian School in Eads, Tennessee, and is currently President-Elect of the Tennessee Art Education Association. myweintraub@briarcrest.com

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