The role of arts in society
The arts play a major role in our lives and impact us personally and collectively. The arts allow the expression of individual voices as well as represent the collective voice of a community. To discuss the roles and the impact the arts have on daily life and society we highlight four genres of art, each of which carries a different purpose for the creation and performance of art.
Our definition: Creative works of art produced to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, intellectual content or technical skill.
Listen to others describe the purpose of fine art.
Folk and Community Arts
Our definition: works of art made in the context of folk or traditional culture, often produced to unify communities and demonstrate or teach group values or skills for everyday life.
Local folk arts are often supported by state agencies and local county or city arts councils. The Utah Division of Arts and Museum has sponsored the Alice Merril Horne Folk Art Collection since 1976 and manages the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts in Salt Lake City.
Fun Fact: “The Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts is the only museum in the country dedicated to displaying a state-owned collection of contemporary folk art. It features objects made by Utah artists from the state’s American Indian, rural, occupational, and ethnic communities. The Museum offers a snapshot of Utah’s heritage and contemporary culture” (Chase Home Website).
Cultures all over the world preserve and celebrate their traditions through visual art, music, dance, theater, literary and media arts. See some international examples below:
Our definition: works of art produced to entertain an audience and cater to trends in mass media.
This category is for all you “Swifties!” Think big box-office movie hits, sold-out concert arenas, the Super Bowl half-time show, and shows like “Dancing with the Stars” or “The Voice.” We love our entertainment art!
On the local level, entertainment art may be a marching band half-time performance at the high school football game; the dance company performs a hip-hop piece at a basketball game; your digitally produced visual- and audio-studded, student-produced school announcements: these are examples of art where the primary focus is to entertain and/or make a profit!
Cosmo the Cougar & the Cougarettes Dance
A school mascot and dance team provide rousing entertainment at athletic events to ignite passion and support from fans. Here’s a local example that has made a splash on the National college sports scene, Cosmo the Cougar and the BYU Cougarettes!Cosmo the Cougar & the Cougarettes Dance - BYU Vs Boise St 2017
Ceremonial and Ritual Arts
Our definition: works of art produced to facilitate sacred, spiritual, secular, or religious ceremonies or rituals.
Rites of passage that mark milestones in a person’s life, sacred ceremonies, and secular or political customs are often integrated with the production of works of art meant to express the emotion, import, or meaning of the event.
The following are a few examples of art produced for ceremonial and ritual purposes.
- Artists are invited to perform at the inauguration ceremony for the President of the United States. A recent example is Amanda Gorman’s performance of her poem “The Hill We Climb” in 2021.
- Ojibwe jingle dress dance is performed by Native American women on special occasions as a healing dance. The women wear specific regalia adorned by beads that emit a jingling sound as they dance.
- A ceremonial art may be the singing of the National Anthem at community and sporting events. Here is a video of Whitney Houston singing the Star Spangled Banner in 1991.
Artist Intent and Aesthetic Preference
The purpose of a work of art is related to the message of the artist, the intended audience, and the artist's personal aesthetic preferences. Conversely, an artist's aesthetic choices could be influenced by their message, audience, and purpose of a work of art. The development of a work of art sometimes begins with a specific purpose and aesthetic preference, or the purpose and aesthetic preference can evolve over time. A work of art could accomplish several purposes simultaneously, similar to the way a single work of art may represent multiple aesthetic theories.
How an artist approaches the creative process is often determined upon reflection on questions like these:
- What is the purpose? What do I want to say?
- Does the work accomplish my intent? How?
- Who is the creator? What is their perspective?
- Who is the audience? How do I want my audience to feel?
- How is the audience being reached? How will my audience best receive my message? What are the cultural parameters of my work?
- Is the topic relevant? What issues, questions, ideas, and values are addressed?
- What is the artistic style, medium, and aesthetic perspective? Do I need new artistic tools or do I use ones I’ve used before?
Purposes of Art in the Elementary Classroom
Deepening Student Learning Through the Arts
There are a variety of compelling reasons to infuse, integrate, and include the arts in the classroom. In general, teachers bring the arts into the classroom with the ultimate goal to support student learning. Student learning is achieved when subgoals such as engaging students, building relationships, assessing knowledge, addressing individual needs, and enacting learning routines are also achieved. The following list breaks down some (but not all) of the specific roles the arts can play in the elementary classroom and how they directly support the ultimate goal of deepening student learning.
- Build Relationships: When students and teachers engage in the creative process, they are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings, practice communication, and develop collaboration skills. This gives a teacher a window into the student’s understanding of their inner life. The development of empathy and the opportunity to listen and reflect on the lived experience of another human being deepens the relationships that aid student learning.
- Assess Student Knowledge: When students describe the product or process of their artistic endeavors, they reveal the depth and breadth of their background knowledge and understanding of the world around them (depending on the content of the artistic work). Students’ drawings, songs, gestures, scripts, stories, and artist statements reveal what a student is connecting to and how their skills are developing. Technical art skills as well as competencies in many other disciplines can be assessed through engagement in the arts.
- Support Student Self-Regulation and Agency: Students disengage and misbehave in the classroom when they have unmet needs, lack self-regulation skills, are challenged too much, or challenged too little (among other things). Arts activities designed to stimulate students’ creative agency will help students make choices to meet their own learning needs, develop self-regulation skills, and work within the optimal level of challenge for them. These benefits reduce the frequency of events disruptive to learning.
- Develop Classroom Rituals and Routines: The arts can serve as engaging and effective classroom routines and rituals. They can provide an avenue for routines that prepare students to learn, act as transition activities, and provide rituals to signal events such as the beginning or end of the school day. Singing songs together when cleaning up materials, preparing listening skills with a percussive call-and-response activity at the opening of a new activity, sharing shapes and gestures while waiting in line for lunch or recess—there are multitude of ways to enact artful routines in the classroom. Find more ideas for artful classroom routines by clicking here.
- Streamline Instruction: Using arts integration allows educators to hit a multitude of subjects and standards in a single arts learning activity. As students investigate their world through art making, they experience the interdisciplinary way the world is connected and woven together. For example, while studying butterflies, K-2 students may be creating watercolor pieces to show what they see in pictures or cages, while simultaneously engaging in geometric pattern observation, counting, scientific inquiry, and vocabulary acquisition. The need to set aside individual time for vocabulary, science, and math in the school day disappears when one project-based arts activity can address all three disciplines. A strategically layered activity increases the relevance and improves retention of the information.
- Develop Competency with the Six C’s: Art making provides fertile soil for the growth of students’ soft skills including collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, character, and citizenship. If art making is prescriptive and restricted to a coloring page or copying a template, then these skills remain rudimentary. However, if art making propels thinking by allowing student choice, inviting collaboration, and including time for students to reflect verbally and in writing, then teachers can explicitly connect the artful activity to these soft skills. These skills are referenced in the Portrait of a Graduate at USBE.
- Demonstrate Learning to Parents and the Community: Art exhibits and performances are a great way to share student learning with parents and the community: it’s one of the best ways to recruit stakeholders in your building! Performance and exhibition give the parents and principals a window into formal and summative learning at school. Audiences can be invited to see students' work in progress or the final product: both activities are valuable to witness.
- Make Learning Memorable: Adults often report that their favorite memories from their school days were art projects, exhibits, and performances. Art making and performance and exhibition and stick with children throughout their lives. If you want it to make learning stick, give ’em the ol’ arts trick!
Improving School Culture Through the Arts
When student learning is deepened through engagement in the arts, this learning can change a school. Students learn how to learn, think, and create. Students make choices and decisions developing personal voice and self-responsibility. School hallways fill with student artwork. Collections of student artwork evolve into grand visual encyclopedias of the student’s learning. Classrooms are filled with melody, rhythm, and movement. Students sing and skip on the playground and in the hallways. In this stimulating environment, students and staff look alive, they feel alive, they act alive.
Check out these teacher stories on the Artful Teaching Podcast:
- Episode 28: Tina McCulloch, sixth-grade teacher, shares Visual Thinking Strategies for SEEd Phenomenon Observations
- Episode 29: Chris Roberts, elementary educator and arts coach, shares his journey from dance dad to Mr. Dance
- Episode 4: Ryan Ferre, fifth-grade teacher, shares his experiences integrating the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic
Arts pedagogy, arts appreciation, and engagement in the arts can change the culture of a school. For example, when one grade-level team member adopts arts integrated pedagogy, their success may spread and the interest and curiosity across school staff may begin to grow. When a team of teachers who appreciate the arts brings a lecture demonstration or performance to the school, they are providing all children access to engage with the arts. This experience can help admin, staff, and teachers see students in new ways as they respond, reflect, and engage with the performance.
As the visionary leader, the principal is a key part of building an arts-rich culture in a school. Supportive administrators can make it easier for teachers to achieve their goals for student learning experiences.
Consider the impact of the arts on the following elements of school culture, and/or how these elements of school culture can support arts learning:
- Mission, vision, and school goals
- Well-being of staff, admin, teachers, and students
- Collaboration between staff, students, parents, and community
- Professional Learning Communities
- Pedagogy and learning theory (problem-based learning, experiential learning, project-based learning, self-directed learning, deep learning)
- Student attendance
- Discipline practices
- School events, programs, celebrations, and initiatives (performances, field trips, PTA, after-school activities, assemblies, competitions, fairs, etc.)
- Teacher autonomy and efficacy (how teachers’ judgment, expertise, and strengths are valued within the school)
Americans for the Arts partnered with Vans Custom Culture to produce a series of Ebooks titled the Arts Education Navigator. Ebook #3, “Facts & Figures,” draws on classic arts education research such as “Champions of Change,” as well as new reports like “Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation” to present key data points about the impact of the arts on students and schools.