What is the Role of Arts Education?

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Ringling College.

I often note how fortunate we are to live in a community that strongly supports so many cultural endeavors. Many of us in Sarasota and beyond understand and appreciate the intrinsic value of the arts. After all, that is why so many of us moved here.

But when it comes to our larger society, we still have work to do to justify and even defend the role of the arts, especially the roles of arts education programs and art colleges. What an arts education gives to individuals as well as communities—both in personal enrichment as well as career benefits—should be widely accepted and beyond reproach. Unfortunately, it’s not.  As Ringling College of Art and Design, an institution which aims to be the preeminent art and design college in the world, we feel a responsibility for making these advantages clear.

Certainly, many people understand art schools offer a uniquely advantageous experience for students serious about pursuing careers as artists, art scholars, art educators and creative business leaders. Colleges like ours provide a focused education on artistic skills, history, creative thinking and analysis that may not be found at other colleges or universities. We also provide an environment conducive to producing creative work, where students are inspired and challenged to communicate increasingly complex concepts and emotions through visual and other media.

That same environment teaches experimentation and creativity like nowhere else. Art classes are a singular space where there is no one right answer. You’re able to explore in multiple directions, wherever your impulses and thoughts take you; you can struggle without losing ground; and you have the freedom to fail without actually failing—and perhaps even discover new routes to your own success.

In a world of ever-increasing automation, rote training and artificial intelligence, can there be any greater skill, regardless of profession, than the ability to think creatively? And to love an open-ended challenge? And to seek out unpaved paths to success?

Ask any Ringling student or alum about the role the arts, art education and the College itself played in their life, and they will undoubtedly mention their own personal development—not just in hard skills but in character as well.

What many do not realize is that personal development in creative fields is never confined to the individual. Why? Because art and other creative endeavors are a matter of community enrichment. Art reflects our history, traditions, culture and ourselves, showing those features from new angles. It allows us, individually and together, to dive deep into different topics and emotions, and to reflect on who we are and what we believe.

Art is not a singular field of study. Nor does an arts college represent a narrowing of scope. To    the contrary, art and creative education broaden the minds, skills and possibilities of its students as well as their communities.

Those of us in institutions of higher learning know firsthand the vital role the arts can play in education, personal development, societal enrichment, and yes, financial well-being and workforce productivity in virtually every industry and professional environment. We know this because we see these benefits every day, every year and every decade at Ringling College. 

And we love sharing these vital creative assets with the world.

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art & Design.

Photo courtesy Ringling College.

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