Art Appreciation Makes You Smarter...Some Interesting Findings
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:
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
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.
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.
One final interesting note, a real surprise, that I"m not sure how to interpret:
TLTA modestly enhanced students’ attitudes toward art....TLTA greatly enhancedThe 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.
students’ attitudes toward art museums.