From kindergarten on up art was always something that made my life happier, but in high school the benefits were serious. Perhaps I just don't remember as clearly the childhood impact of art, but I do remember high school. In high school I needed art.
So what are the benefits of teaching art to a teen? Let's look at my experience:
1. Art made school more palatable.
As an avid bookworm who kept a journal, I should have loved school. I didn't, I hated it. It may have been the public school model, and I do believe that was a great part of it, but I simply hated school. I was the kid that if you asked what their favorite subject was I would have said recess, gym, and art.
Adults often think about what is best for their child and conclude that extracurriculars are secondary, but I am still young enough to remember that those secondary subjects acted as motivators for working on the primary subjects that parents consider so important.
This may explain the results of the study The Arts and Achievement
in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies. They found that poor students (low socioeconomic status) who took arts courses (Including music, dance, theater and visual arts) were 10% more likely to take a calculus course, three times more likely to complete a bachelor's degree, had higher career goals and were more civically minded. Personally, I did that calculus course, spent three years in a bachelor of science before I decided it wasn't for me. As for the rest... well I'm still only 27.
2. Art took an interest and helped me develop real skills.
As I was entering into high school my abilities focused mainly on drawing trees in my backyard and copying faces from books. While I was proud of these artistic expressions my art ability improved exponentially when I entered the structured arts training available in high school. My rapid improvement would not have been possible if I was left as a teen to discover by trial and error all that centuries of development in arts has made possible.
The best example of this I can offer is when on the first day of grade nine I proudly presented my art teacher with a portrait of a charge I babysat. She examined it and kindly informed me that the eyes are to be found roughly in the middle of the head rather than up near the forehead. Despite my bruised pride I never again drew eyes on a forehead.
3. Art gave me an outlet to express my inner turmoil and emotions.
In case you didn't know, teens are often emotional, especially female teens. I was no different, and although many of my difficulties seem small on this side of adulthood they were very real to me at the time. I was the child who in middle school chose to wear a wool poncho rather than a typical winter jacket, who tried to change her name to Excalibur in grade six and who choose to wear 5$ cotton shoes to gym to save her mother money. Clearly, I had social difficulties. By the time I arrived in high school, I had become bitter with the world and determined to protect myself with a scowl.
Art is a place where we can go when we feel miserable and let it out, and art is a place where we can explore the beautiful parts of life. I believe that God gave us the ability to express ourselves creatively as an expression of His image. When we express our deep pains and disappointments through music, poetry, writing and art we are able to acknowledge what is wrong in the world and begin healing. I don't think creative people should wallow in their negative emotions, but I do think that when we put them out where everyone can see we allow ourselves to mourn and move on and give our loved ones the opportunity to help us in our struggles.
4. Art gave me a relaxing hobby that helps me to de-stress.
Teens are stressed!? They've got nothing on adults! I know you were thinking it, and I agree, life just gets more
difficult the further we go. When we were teens life was the hardest it had been up to that point, our classes were more difficult, everyone continually reminded us how much our transcript mattered to our future success, there was pressure to choose a career path, and don't even mention relationships. Life was stressful even as a teen.
I was also possibly a little hyper. A funny little character. A bookworm and athletic, practically catatonic reading and bursting with energy the rest of the time. Art was a good balance, I could be still but still move, and while drawing or painting, I was able to think and process everything that I had read and done.
As a mother, I still like to get my paints out after the girls have gone to bed and just relax. It's a skill that can greatly help a person's mental health through their lives. I think the calm and relaxing effect of making art is the reason for the recent surge in popularity of adult coloring books and paint along bars.
6. Art gave me a skill that I could use to benefit others.
If you question what the benefit of me learning art was to others, the first example I would give you was the joy it brought my mother. When I brought home my first portrait my mother beamed as she hung it above the piano. It was a well-drawn portrait of a scowling teen that no one but my mother would have wanted, but every mother rejoices in the art of their child. Why? What is so special about art that it not only brings happiness to the creator but to people around them? I think it's part of us as an image of God, that's my take on it.
I have been able to benefit more people than just my mother. I have given art to friends that they have been happy to hang on their walls. Why do we hang art, why not just have bare white walls? Why are we made that way? I believe we were made in the image of that same creator who made sunsets, and so we surround ourselves with beauty rather than barrenness.
In addition to gifts, I have painted commissioned portraits of family members. They were happy to pay me. There's another question. What is so special about art that someone would take a perfectly good photograph and pay to have a person paint the same image by hand? I believe that art from the hand of a person stands out over something from a machine simply because we are unique as image bearers of God. Art brings joy to people, and whatever you think the reason is; I think you'll agree with me on that point.