This statement may be hammered into the little kid who wistfully proclaims that he wants to be an artist, or it may be subtly imbued into the minds of thousands, if not millions of kids as they attend school each day. School is meant to prepare us for life, and if being an artist – in whatever form that may be – will not earn us a living, then why even bother with it in schools in the first place? Or more importantly, if the government and all the economists running the country do not see a correlation between more artists among its citizens and a rise in GDP, why invest money into cultivating them? It seems more sensible to grow businessmen, entrepreneurs and engineers to help us continue to grow and compete with other countries. So onwards, reading, writing and arithmetic! I mean, why not start learning to read when we’re new-born babies to get that bit more ahead?
If research tells us that we need x more engineers and y more business men, then investing more in maths and the sciences and less in the arts, would seem a sensible decision to make. Many of you artists, or aspiring artists out there may already bristle at this idea, and frankly, what the government is currently systematically hammering out of schools, and smoothing over with ever more science and maths is a violation of freedom of choice and diversity that not only artists, but everyone else can see. By excluding arts, we are losing not only painting and drawing, but music and drama as well. Who ever said school plays were a waste of time?
Our government is failing to check itself, as it expands an ever more rigorous programme for exam success in schools (in the STEM subjects which they promote so much of course). Perhaps certain statistics have not reached the insulated walls of the houses of parliament (or our ministers lack the imagination of how to incorporate them into the curriculum). Whatever the reasons, they would be unwise to ignore a great deal of research that shows that including the arts in improves test results – not just in some areas, but across the board. Rather than taking away from valuable time spent on STEM subjects that the politicians are so worried about, it actually enhances results. The array of programmes that testify to this, from ‘Turnaround: Arts’ supported by Michelle Obama in the US, as well as ones closer to home such as the Opera North programme, which are all dealing with schools that have been struggling in terms of grades. In all of the cases pupils’ performance and general wellbeing soared beyond expectation.
This may help you imagine what it is we are losing when we lose the arts. Is it freedom of choice and fun, or better grades and prospects for the future? Or both. You choose. But let’s hope David Cameron and his government have the ability to imagine that too.