The State of Art Education: The Evolution of Human Intellect and the Creative Mind.

Approximately 100,000 years ago, in a tiny South African Cave, the human imagination was actualized through the art-making process. This was early humankind’s attempt at externalizing the mind and symbolically representing identity and surroundings. This action has been essential to developing the modern human intellect: actions of seeing and feeling, of connecting the hand with the heart, and performing cognitive transformation. Neuroscience explains how our engagements with art build crucial neural networks, making metaphysical connections that transform our potential intelligence into actual intelligence (Hardiman). Why, then, shouldn’t art be required in all schools of learning? Neural scientist Semir Zeki would respond, “The answer to that question… immediately reveals a parallel between the functions of art and the functions of the brain, and indeed ineluctably drives us to another conclusion – that the overall function of art is an extension of the function of the brain.”

Modern studies on how learning impacts brain development suggest that all students should have time for arts experiences every day. Educational systems that embrace this fact present a pattern of achievement that is connected to arts programming (Tishman). Economic realities illustrate a global economy dependent on creative industries, hungry for an innovative a cultured workforce (White). Leading scientists, such as Jim Sullivan, Vice President of Discovery Research at Abbvie, pressure schools to realize what they have known for a long time: “Investigation of the many great scientific minds over the last 100 years reveals the important influence of the arts in their development and success.”

Support for art education should not come as a revelation. We absorb, feel, interpret, express, communicate, and cultivate the fine arts every moment of every day in our lives through music, theater, dance, film, sculpture, paintings, etc. Art is at the core of who we are as human beings and nurtures our development in profound ways. However, the vast research and data for the arts has been insufficient to result in state government support for the fine arts as a vital component of today’s educational system. Rather, arts programs are being cut in Illinois schools where funding arguments take priority over the development of our children. It must be understood by policy makers that the finer arts are not just a “nicety,” but rather an economic priority, a civil rights issue, and matter of equitable and superior educational development.  

The Illinois High School Art Exhibition was created out of this need, and driven by the opportunities the visual arts provide for Illinois students in education, in future careers, and in life. How was it that a prestigious venue and platform for student artist achievement such as this had not already existed? The answer can be expressed in the pattern of decreased arts programing over the past 60+ years in American schools. What has been clearly evidenced in just 1 year of the organization’s existence is the need for such a venue. In just our second year, our program connected students to over 20 million dollars in tuition scholarships and 100,000 dollars in early college programs from over 40 colleges/universities. The real life connection is that the visual arts are a legitimate path to college, and one that is under-utilized. The IHSAE’s goal is to empower the voices of our high school art students by advocating and exposing their ingenuity and technical mastery in the arts. By connecting the diversity of urban and suburban student artists, we aim to unify through a common goal and experience: to provide a public platform for the range and beauty of student artwork; to promote an artistic community of peers and professionals; to celebrate the importance of art in education; and to reinforce the power of art in our students’ lives.

Heading into our 4th year, and $60 million in tuition scholarships later, the IHSAE Board is proud to say that our mission has been accomplished, and we are eager to innovate, adapt, and grow to provide our art education systems with even more opportunities.

The economic reality of our present time is that 4.7 million jobs are directly supported by the Arts and Culture sector, with a total compensation of 334.9 billion alone, which contributed $698.7 billion dollars to the U.S. GDP in 2012 (Americans for the Arts). This is expected to increase. Not only are our models for industry outdated and lacking in creative problem solvers, but our economy is well supported by arts-based careers. Put simply, art education is integral to our economic strength, and vital to the future economy’s growth. The IHSAE intends to help support that future.