“We feel we need to change the conversation about the arts in this country,” said Ms. Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College and a senior research associate at Project Zero. “These instrumental arguments are going to doom the arts to failure, because any superintendent is going to say, ‘If the only reason I’m having art is to improve math, let’s just have more math.’ “
“Do we want to therefore say, ‘No singing,’ because singing didn’t lead to spatial improvement?” Ms. Winner added. “You get yourself in a bind there. The arts need to be valued for their own intrinsic reasons. Let’s figure out what the arts really do teach.”
In their new study Ms. Winner, Ms. Hetland and their co-authors, Shirley Veenema and Kimberly Sheridan, focused on the benefits accrued through classes in painting, drawing, sculpture and the other visual arts. The results are to be published in their book, “Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education” (Teachers College Press).
They observed students taught by five visual arts teachers in two high schools in Massachussetts: three at the Boston Arts Academy, a public urban high school, and two at the Walnut Hill School for the arts, an independent secondary school in Natick. At both schools, all students specialize in an art form but are enrolled in a regular academic curriculum.
The authors videotaped a two- to three-hour class of each teacher once a month for one academic year. They then zeroed in on what they deemed to be crucial segments of teaching and learning, showed those clips to the teacher after each class and interviewed them about their intentions.