Monday, August 07, 2006

Art Appreciation Makes You Smarter...Some Interesting Findings

A news brief in the Times today noted that the Guggenheim is getting another grant to continue to study the impact of their highly impressive Learning Through Art program:
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been awarded a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Education to conduct research into whether students’ problem-solving skills are improved by studying art. Last month the museum released results from another federally financed study that found measurable improvements in a range of literacy skills and critical thinking among students who took part in a program in which the Guggenheim sends artists into schools. That study, now in its second year, interviewed hundreds of New York third-graders, comparing the skills of those who had participated in the Guggenheim program, called Learning Through Art, and those who did not.
A few weeks ago, the museum held a conference and 4-day institute exploring the findings of the first study, and the program has also spawned a children's book, that "uses works of art to explore basic elementary school subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies."

Learning Through Art has been sending artists into New York City schools for about 35 years, according to a
recent press release (pdf file), but as the Times article notes, the findings of this study are particularly important to get out there NOW because "federal education policies have led to cuts in many public-school arts programs." The press release discussed a bit how the conclusions were reached:

The study employed a quasi-experimental design to examine student and teacher responses at four schools elected according to specific demographic, socioeconomic, and literacy criteria: P.S. 86 and 94 in the Bronx and P.S. 148 and 149 in Queens.

Students were asked to discuss a work of art (Arshile Gorky’s The Artist and His Mother, 1926) and an excerpt from a book (Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira, 2004). The study indicated that LTA students used more words to express themselves and demonstrated higher overall literacy skills when discussing the painting than did the control group not in the program.

Specifically, LTA positively impacted five of the six literacy skills examined in response to the painting (extended focus, hypothesizing, evidential reasoning, building schema, and multiple interpretations). LTA students also demonstrated higher overall literacy skills when discussing the text. The program was shown to positively impact four of the six literacy skills examined in response to the text (extended focus, thorough description, hypothesizing, and multiple interpretations).

Finally, the study showed that LTA positively impacted attitudes toward art museums and increased students’ understanding of problem-solving in art making.

But still, I wondered while processing all this, why exactly does learning about art improve one's ability to learn and understand better in other disciplines? I looked at the study's executive summary (pdf) for clues and found, off topic, a few interesting side notes, like

Overall, classroom teachers had little training in the visual arts and were infrequent art museum visitors. However, classroom teachers expressed positive attitudes toward art museums and about interacting with works of art on a series of scales. [...] Treatment Group teachers also gave the [Teaching Literacy Through Art] TLTA program high ratings. They reported that the TLTA program was very enriching for their students and increased their confidence in discussing artwork with their students (each an average rating of 6.8 on a 7-point scale). They also noted that they had learned new strategies for teaching with art and that they would like to participate in the program again (each an average rating of 6.3 on a 7-point scale).
Which, despite being interesting, didn't actually answer my original question: why does this work?

The study's other findings suggest that perhaps interaction with a professional artist was key here. This experience seems to have shown the students better learning habits, through the artists' example and communication style:

  • Teaching artists incorporated active listening, positive classroom climate, and art-making demonstration at the most accomplished level during more than one-half of their lessons. They incorporated critique/reflection of students’ artwork and art-making problem solving at less accomplished levels.
  • During discussions about works of art, teaching artists asked open-ended questions, used wait time and follow-up questions, and asked for evidence during more than one-half of their lessons. They encouraged thorough description, integrated factual information, and asked questions that supported curriculum-based themes during less than one-half of their lessons.
Now, I know the way I presented that might imply that the regular teachers don't know about or encourage the same learning techniques. I don't have any indication of that or wish to suggest it (in fact, the study noted that "During the 40 percent of the teaching artists’ lessons, the classroom teacher played a highly active and effective role"). What I'm curious about here is whether there's something inherent in what it takes to make art that makes one a better teacher, or such a good student that other students pick up on the techniques by viewing them.


One final interesting note, a real surprise, that I"m not sure how to interpret:
TLTA modestly enhanced students’ attitudes toward art....TLTA greatly enhanced
students’ attitudes toward art museums.
The cynic in me wants to conclude that once again, despite altruistic intentions, the medium is truly always the message, but given that interest in museums often leads to collecting, I'll leave that unexplored...for now.

15 Comments:

Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8/07/2006 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

Based soley on your description of the program, I'd venture a guess that the outcomes seen have little or nothing to do with art, per se. I think you've sensed that too when you finally get to the end of your post and discuss the

I am trying to recall a discussion, whether it was here or elsewhere, about why we are constantly trying to make a case for art education in practical, utilitarian terms. Which I think is fine, since valuing "art for art's sake" leads to some of the most egregious abuses of so-called artistic license.

In terms of attitudes towards art museums, this falls in line with Pew studies of the effect of early exposure to art in people's attitudes. I'd be interested to see what the methodology was for determining this finding.

8/07/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

My addled brain failed to complete my first paragraph...

Based soley on your description of the program, I'd venture a guess that the outcomes seen have little or nothing to do with art, per se. I think you've sensed that too when you finally get to the end of your post and discuss the conditions set for these students interaction with art and artists. There's no reason the same conditions couldn't be created for learning about other subjects as well. I think this is a general criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act, which apparently encourages "teaching to the test" rather than equipping kids with higher-level learning skills, though I think these higher level approaches are ineffective if there isn't a foundation of facts to build upon. (I say "apparently" since I am certainly no expert on that topic and have to defer to others - both sides which are highly politicized and I simply can't trust 'em completely.)

8/07/2006 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

perhaps interaction with a professional artist was key here.

I think this may be the key here. Artists probably make more interesting role models for these kids than their regular teachers, and they're probably more stimulated by discussions about art than by the rote learning that's normally expected of them. Studies have shown that kids learn better when they're awake.

given that interest in museums often leads to collecting

If galleries want to encourage collecting, they should fund a study that shows having art in the home improves SAT & LSAT scores. That'll have the soccer-parents digging for their credit cards.

8/07/2006 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'd be interested to see what the methodology was for determining this finding.

I haven't had time yet to read through it (and statistics tend to make my brain shut down), but the full study is available here (in pdf format).

If galleries want to encourage collecting, they should fund a study that shows having art in the home improves SAT & LSAT scores.

Yeah...would someone get right on that, please??

8/07/2006 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I like what Kurt said about abstract thinking above. I'd add that studying art probably encourages a more creative and freeform type of thinking which math, science and history don't allow.

Even literature is taught in a way that crams every text with whys, wherefores, meanings and metaphors that need to be decoded like a math problem. It's true that art can also come with lots of embedded meaning, but most good art can be enjoyed without knowing the meaning, and what's more, any viewer can subvert any piece of art any time they want. If an artist can subvert an image and make it mean the opposite of what people expect, then any viewer can do the same.

There's a different and perhaps more universal type of creativity required to think about art than other forms of expression, which may help grease all the gears of the brain all-around. You have to learn how to interpret something -- really interpret it -- and create thoughts out of visual and circumstantial evidence. A novelist can lead you down a path and beat you over the head with a conclusion, and a musician can evoke primitive and universal emotions with certain tempos and sonic combinations, but an artist needs to make the image visually interesting first, or you won't even bother to look.

And finally it's just flat-out FUN. For Pete's sake, the more fun you have doing something, the more you get out of it.

8/07/2006 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

check out www.cult2vader.com 1/2 art 1/2 music

8/07/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

"It's true that art can also come with lots of embedded meaning, but most good art can be enjoyed without knowing the meaning, and what's more, any viewer can subvert any piece of art any time they want. If an artist can subvert an image and make it mean the opposite of what people expect, then any viewer can do the same."

Enjoying art without understanding the great context ("meaning") is immature, in the most technical sense of the word, and certainly shouldn't be a fundimental part of anyone's education. If you don't know what the piece was supposed to mean in the first place, it's mighty hard to subvert that meaning in any sort of substantial way. Like non-rhyming poetry, it's like playing tennis without a net.

8/07/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like non-rhyming poetry, it's like playing tennis without a net

Maybe more like playing tennis without a ball :)

8/07/2006 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont get the reference to nonrhyming poetry--why is would that be like playing tennis without a net--and plus what does that have to do with not getting the meaning of an artwork?

8/08/2006 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During these special art periods, I'll bet that a certain kind of trust was built up in those third graders, also, that contributed to the positive results of those "interviews" the article mentions. All sorts of relationships shift when art is the subject, if it's taught well--kids who may have had little or no authority in other aspects of school can now get some recognition for their talents and abilities, and teachers have a chance to see themselves in a new relationship to students--a more equal and generous relationship, often, built on mutual discovery and curiosity--so kids sometimes gain a lot more trust in the adult world and trust in these almost magical abilities that are all theirs--making art, especially, grants them confidence in their personal authority.I imagine all this would really help third graders come out looking a lot better in "interviews"(wonder with whom and about exactly what!)
The museum is a whole world unto itself that reflects this new relationship of the inner and outer, and it's exciting for kids to identify it as a refuge for these values; a respected institution dedicated to art in all its aspects in the midst of our otherwise skewed society.

8/08/2006 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

One of the things with learning is that the more senses you use why studying, the easier it is to pay attention, to learn, memorize and engage. Obviously art isn't just an intellectual or rote activity. It engages many senses.

Weird how I've heard references and jokes about art education the last few weeks, and how "lame" art study is...an example is between Pitt and Jolie's characters in Mr and Mrs Smith, they are confessing their real identities and he tells her he studied art history. she looks disappointed/agast and says "art?" He says, "history, history, it's serious." I don't remember the other venues, but a couple of tv shows had the standing joke being art study.

8/09/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I don't like the idea of coming to a kid and tell them "hey..this is art...please observe and let's talk".


I prefer teach them to make their own mind about the way they value things. So for me the art teacher is like the catholic teacher, he is attempting to engulf or assimilate certain values at the expence of innocent minds.

I definitely prefer coming back to those Pythagorian basic forms and
definitely encourage free expression but mind's ability to evaluate art should be a subject to take with cautions and reserved for the more experienced (ie, older) kids.

Someone mentioned that they like that kids learn to take an abstract look on life thanks to art, but I would definitely teach my kids to abstract value when they look at a work of art, extract its value and see the object as part of reality, which is exactly what you are supposed to do if you are going to study its mathematical priority.


I mean, are they even able to touch the darn things? Throwm them in the air to see how they fall back?


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

8/09/2006 02:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ok when I say extract value I do mean the capacity of seeing an art object as non-art. Nothing to do with market.

Cedric Caspesyan
(plus forgive my bad english..expence=expense, etc..)

8/09/2006 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger Lobo said...

The point about art may be true, but it helps us with what we learn - art does not teach us the other subjects we learn - history, math, english, social studies, etc. Art may stimulate certain brain areas which improves our understand of what we study but we have to learn the subjects in the first place.

You have to learn how to appreciate are and how to make the connection between art and other things we are learning. It's helpful once we know the subjects and art can teach us about subjects when we study the piece (personality of the artist, the time period they lived in, structure of the painting, writing reports about the art piece, etc.) But we have to know how to write, mesure with math dimensions, history of the time period, what effect this type of personality has, social setting of the times.

Art helps once you know.

8/11/2006 04:49:00 PM  

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