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Learning at its Best

why we need art

I’m not sure if there is a utilitarian value to art. I’m not even sure that it matters. I’m sure there are socio-political reasons for art and the act of persuasion and the way that art can be used to create social changed.


We talk of art as if it is a product, a consumable, durable good. It’s not. It is always as much a verb as it is a noun. It provokes. It inspires. It questions. It exists.

But if I had to pin down (and art isn’t easily pinned down) the reason for art, it’s that it’s sacred. Always. From stained-glass windows painting us in the bright lights of the saints to the most profane atheistic provocations in art houses that the religious might be prone to picket. Art is that “stuff” (not even sure what to call it) that makes one stop and think and feel and realize that there is no difference, truly, to thinking and feeling.

The psyche.

The soul. An archaic word, perhaps. But that’s where art goes. And that’s ultimately why it is always sacred, even in the most provocative sense, in the most logical, in the most political, in the most abstract. It reaches the psyche, the soul, and that’s why we need it. Lungs need air. The psyche needs art. Whether it’s an amazing meal or a mural or a song or a poem or an outfit or a two-thousand year old psalm. Doesn’t matter. We need to breathe.

So if we try and defend the need for art and we get into aestheticism or classicism or nihilism or any of that, we miss it in the sea of isms. We need art because we are human and it’s how our souls breathe.

 If you ask me why we need to save the arts in school, I’m not sure how to respond to you, besides, “We need to breathe.”

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


7 thoughts on “why we need art

  1. Your description is artful, provocative, and poetic — but to meet the practical needs of the political struggle to re-imbue education with art, we also need more accessible definitions. The artist I’m collaborating with on a project to do some of that reintegration work, Ed Martinez, explained to the kids we’re working with that what art does is enable us to see what isn’t there. Enigmatic, perhaps, but the kids got it right away.

    Posted by fmindlin | October 2, 2012, 12:36 am
  2. See ‘ARTinED- A new approach to education using the arts’ a European Union funded education project that is finding ways to bring the arts in to every primary school subject.

    Posted by Joel Josephson | October 2, 2012, 3:59 am
  3. I think the most beautiful thing about art is it is useless =) and there is a lot of freendon in been like that. If something is usefull, it is limited… Thats because we need art in schools, to cultivate freedon and creativity. Contrary to most activites in schools, art lets kids explore alternative possibilitties.

    Posted by Janaina | October 2, 2012, 4:51 am
  4. Man does not live by bread, or by words alone… ‘art’ helps make the ineffable tangentially real.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | October 2, 2012, 9:45 am

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