Art for Art's Sake?

The Impact of Arts Education

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Arts education is often said to be a means of developing critical and creative thinking. Arts education has also been argued to enhance performance in non-arts academic subjects such as mathematics, science, reading and writing, and to strengthen students’ academic motivation, self-confidence, and ability to communicate and co-operate effectively. Arts education thus seems to have a positive impact on the three subsets of skills that we define as “skills for innovation”: subject-based skills, including in non-arts subjects; skills in thinking and creativity; and behavioural and social skills.

This report examines the state of empirical knowledge about the impact of arts education on these kinds of outcomes. The kinds of arts education examined include arts classes in school (classes in music, visual arts, theatre, and dance), arts-integrated classes (where the arts are taught as a support for an academic subject), and arts study undertaken outside of school (e.g. private music lessons; out-of-school classes in theatre, visual arts, and dance). The report does not deal with education about the arts or cultural education, which may be included in all kinds of subjects.

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Cognitive outcomes of visual arts education

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

This chapter discusses the habits of mind that are potentially trained in strong visual arts classes, and then reviews the research on the effects of visual arts learning on cognitive outcomes: general academic achievement, reading, geometric/spatial reasoning, and observational skills. The one area where transfer has been shown – and only from one study – relates to visual observation skills, and this is one of the habits of mind that visual arts teachers often emphasise. The other area which we believe is promising is the relationship between visual arts education and geometry – since spatial reasoning is used in both visual arts and geometry. Thus far, though, only correlational links have been found, even if one ongoing study is now examining the effects of visual arts on geometry with a quasi-experimental design.

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