Why the Arts Matter

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Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Eleanor Rigby– The Beatles

The impact of music is difficult to quantify but easy to feel. A song can elicit a visceral reaction, whether it is excitement, sadness, or a wave of nostalgia. Two weeks ago I turned on Sirius XM as I cleaned the kitchen. The first song to play was Eleanor Rigby; a haunting Beatles classic that carefully intertwines powerful vocals with a string arrangement. This beautiful and haunting song helped me enter into a different mindset, far away from the haze of a long day and baked on lasagna.

The value of artistic expression extends far beyond emotional well-being. Noted author Daniel Pink explored the value of the right brain skillset in his book, “A Whole New Mind.” Artistic tasks represent right brain thinking while analytical functions embody the left. In previous generations, left brain skills were highly coveted. Students went to college to become content experts and serve as gatekeepers of knowledge. An accountant had a unique understanding of income taxes, and a lawyer’s skill was required to form a limited liability corporation. However, in the age of automation, the rules are changing.

You can do your income taxes online, and form an LLC using LegalZoom.com. I’m not declaring the legal and accounting professions to be extinct, but they are evolving as will most professions.

“When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

– Daniel Pink

There were many right brain skills on display at my daughter’s recent choir concert. Students collaborated as an ensemble, coalescing individual talent into a shared work of art. In a world where Siri or Alexa instantly accesses information, applying knowledge in the proper context is far more valuable than fact memorization.  My daughter and her classmates were able to demonstrate and apply their musical knowledge on a public stage.

Artistic expression encourages creativity, a skill that will never be automated. Students must analyze readily available information to detect patterns, make connections, and solve problems. We are preparing students for jobs that do not exist. Creativity will be a requisite skill for 21st-century workers.

Future professionals will not be purveyors of facts; instead, they will solve problems for their clients. A lawyer or accountant will still need experiential knowledge, but those who thrive will do so by building connections with their customers and using their experience to solve unique problems. They will apply their knowledge in context and build relationships to foster trust-something a computer will never accomplish.

The arts provide students an opportunity to develop and enhance 21st-century skills.  For too long they have served as an overlooked accessory to learning. We now know they offer unique opportunities to foster critical skills and build confidence.  It is appropriate the impact of artistic expression is difficult to quantify because the benefits are immeasurable.

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