The Meaning of Arts Education

I have many friends who are tireless advocates of the arts, and arts education (music, dance, visual art, etc.), and I have always admired their enthusiasm and passion. I also place a high value on the importance of art, and arts education. But, I often wonder why those in a position to create/shape public policy do not share this passion. How can they not see the meaningful personal, cultural, educational, and societal benefits of having a thriving arts community (that includes vibrant and creative arts education programs)?

This morning I saw a TED talk on the topic of what motivates people to work hard. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a monetary reward, or the like, might be the most influential. But is that really the case? I know that I work just as hard when I am performing at a senior center or church for little or no money. Many times, I even find more joy in those performances over those that I am paid well. Why is that? And, how does that relate to helping policy makers find a higher value in the arts and arts education?

My high valuation of art, especially music, as Dan Ariely explains in the TED talk embedded below, is because I work hard at my craft. Mr. Ariely suggests that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. That is true in my own experience! I find joy in that journey toward the next performance, NOT just the end result. Just like a mountain climber finds success and joy in the trek to the top of the highest peak.

In contrast, many policy makers have little or no experience in creating art. They have not spent the countless hours that many of us have spent in mastering their craft. Thus, the value they place on the arts and arts education is much lower than mine.

Perhaps the best way to convince policy makers to invest more into the arts and education is to provide them an opportunity to have a meaningful arts experience. Not just attending a great concert, or visiting an impressive art gallery, or seeing a stunning dance performance. But an actual activity that puts the policy maker in a position where they have to WORK at trying to master one of the arts – even for just a short time.

In this TED talk, two eye-opening experiments are presented that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.



BJ Bedont


About rbedont

I'm a husband, father, and brother. I'm a professional musician, teacher, and doctoral student. That sounded like those "I'm a Mormon" commercials. Oh ya, I'm one of those too. I like to cook - it's much cheaper than going to a shrink. I envision this blog as a hodgepodge of all of those things, plus some shenanigans.
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One Response to The Meaning of Arts Education

  1. Elizabeth Crawford says:

    I think it’s a great idea in theory that our policy makers would be involved in something creative to glean a better understanding of the value of the arts. In reality, I think these policy makers tend to spend more time on their golf swing and investing in major sporting events box seats. But THAT in itself is a statement about what our society truly values. It’s a simple as following the money and rather sadly, it never leads to “classical” music/arts education.

    I think the burden will always have to be on the artists themselves to prove, re-prove, innovate, engage, produce, and market in constantly new ways. We deal with this A TON here in my quaint position but especially because we are working VERY closely with the public educators on a Music Task Force initiative. What has been startling to me has been in realizing that WITHIN our own field, there is so much dysfunction and ill-will towards one another, it’s no wonder we struggle to put on a unified front to make meaningful pathways into arts education, effective policy making, and innovative programming.

    For example, how often are public/private teachers attending concerts WITH their students or reviewing the calendar to encourage their students? How often are full time performers overhead begrudging the latest series of mandatory ed. outreach concerts? “We” have been accused of being dis-genuine about our work in outreach – which I found offensive the first time I heard it – but when I reflect on my personal experiences with ed outreach, I know that there are TOO MANY musicians who simply don’t care.

    If we want to show our society that we value arts education, that we believe in creating a new generation of audience members, that we respect those within our shared field, we have to do a much better job of marketing our field as a whole. The labor disputes, work stoppages, strikes, bad attitudes, shabby concert black – all of it has an effect on our product as a whole, whether we want it to or not.

    Creative programming, meaningful outreach, maintaining a unified front, engaging INTENSLY with our audience, effective marking – these are the things that have to be working across the board before we can expect traction. I submit that there are pockets of success, cities, regions, organizations, artists, but it is in no way comprehensive. We can site all the statistical research there is, but often times that is clouded by…the needless drama of our field.

    There are many subtopics to this; all of which feed into your original thesis. I don’t have all the answers but, as hard as it is to hear, I think we all need to be doing better and doing more because it will never be enough until we value arts as much as box seats at Jazz game.

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