Including art in your teaching strategy can help students grow in multiple ways.

Art is one of the essential elements of humanity. Since the beginning of civilization, people have painted, sculpted, told stories, and played music. But in a modern world that so often revolves around the STEM fields of science, math, engineering, and technology, does art remain vital? Should it?

As an educator, you have likely asked that question or had that question asked of you. After all, every minute of classroom teaching time that is devoted to arts education is a minute students aren’t devoting to STEM education. Still, there are some excellent reasons to focus on art. Namely, it can help boost students’ critical thinking.*

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment. To put it another way, critical thinking is the ability to resist gut impulses and instead look carefully at the available information, consider multiple interpretations of that information, and come to a conclusion that is rationally defensible. If this seems complex, that’s because it is. But it’s also an important skill to have in the complicated, modern world, and one that will serve students well in whatever career they choose to enter.

How Does Art Improve Critical Thinking?

Education experts who’ve examined why there’s a link between art experience and improved critical thinking cite a number of factors at play. In particular, art education teaches students to observe the world more closely. Good art is often complex, layered with multiple elements and meanings. It takes time to find, examine, and consider the numerous details that constitute most works of art. This process of observation and study helps teach students to more closely observe and analyze the world around them—skills that make up the bedrock of critical thinking.

What Other Benefits Does Art Education Provide?

Studies into the effect of art education have uncovered numerous benefits in addition to improved critical thinking. These include:

Improved Tolerance and Empathy
Students who experience art show increased levels of tolerance and empathy. This is most likely because experiencing art exposes students to viewpoints outside of their own. They come face-to-face with other people, places, and ideas, and this can help them learn to see the world outside of themselves and tolerate the differences they’ll encounter in the future.

Improved Test Scores and Graduation Rates
While researchers aren’t in complete agreement on art education’s ability to improve outcomes in other subjects, numerous studies have found a link between art education and higher test scores and graduation rates.§ While the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, it’s possible that art education gives students the ability to think more creatively in other subjects. It may also help them better understand how school subjects connect to the greater world and their own futures.

Improved Resiliency
Producing art, rather than simply experiencing it, may also benefit students. As a recent study found, visual arts production can actually change the wiring of the brain, improving areas that help us manage stress.** In the study, adults who produced art showed improved psychological resilience, a benefit that will likely help them better cope with future stress.

How Can You Do More for Your Students?

If you want to improve your ability to integrate art and other beneficial elements into your teaching strategy, you should consider earning an MS in Education (MSEd). Though an MSEd won’t necessarily focus on art education, this advanced education degree is a great choice for certified teachers who already hold a teaching degree but are looking to hone their skills. An MS in Education can also improve career options and earnings.

If you’re not sure how you’ll find the time to earn an MSEd degree, online education may be the answer. A number of top schools of education now offer graduate programs for teachers through convenient online learning formats. Through an online master’s in education program, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, when you earn a master’s in education online, you can take advantage of flexible scheduling that lets you participate in classes on a weekly basis whenever it works best for you. If you want to earn a master’s degree in education while continuing to teach full time, a university offering online teaching degrees may be your best option.

Art education is just one of the many ways you can help students excel. If you want to take your teaching ability and teaching career to the next level, earning a master’s in education through an online university can be a great choice.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*D. Bowen, et. al., “Learning to Think Critically: A Visual Art Experiment,” Educational Researcher, on the internet at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189X13512675.

†J. Greene, et. al., “Arts Education Matters: We Know, We Measured It,” Education Week, on the internet at www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/12/03/13greene.h34.html.

‡T. Henry, Study: “Arts Education Has Academic Effect,” USA Today, on the internet at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2002-05-20-arts.htm.

§R. Harris, “Arts Education and Graduation Rates,” New York Times, on the internet at www.nytimes.com/2009/10/19/arts/19arts-ARTSEDUCATIO_BRF.html.

**A. Bolwerk, “How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity,” PLOS One, on the internet at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0101035.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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