The Benefits of Writing and Fine Arts
Most education programs in the developed world promote writing over art. This is a given. Above the kindergarten level, educators and parents take for granted that mastering language arts is indispensable in a competitive world, whereas fine arts are deprioritized as extracurricular. In a typical American school, students are required four years of English or literature as core subjects to graduate compared to no requirements at all in fine arts. However, upon in-depth research, the ostensible differences between the two subjects dissipates. In reality, fine arts and writing actually boast the same psychological benefits because both activities promote creativity and decrease stress.
While school can be strict and regimented, Creativity is the elusive gem that most educators try to refine in their students. Instead of relying on one prescribed way to develop creativity, research has discovered that a short session of making art can be as effective as creative writing. In the articles, The Modification of Sentence Structure and Its Relationship To Subjective Judgements of Creativity in Writing and Educational Research: The Art of Problem Solving, investigators utilized a pretest/posttest design to quantify the increase of creative ability in children after writing and making art, respectively. In the writing study, fifth graders were asked to respond to writing prompts, whereas in the art study fifty graders engaged in sketching tasks. The children were assessed on their creativity and problem-solving abilities before and after the exercise. The results showed that the children were more likely to answer questions that stumped them in the pretest after both the writing and the art exercise. Both fine arts and writing contribute to psychological well-being from a creative standpoint. One of the greatest benefits that both creative mediums possess is their stress relieving abilities. An article by the Huffington post explains how artistic expression can relieve stress and anxiety by temporarily distancing the artist from their problems. A similar phenomena can be found in journal writing. An article from Harvard Health demonstrates the positive impacts that writing with emotions can have on one’s stress and experience of trauma. Subjects mainly experienced a reduction in stress and anxiety. Frequently, both emotional writing and art are proposed as valid antidotes to excessive stress. This proposition is rarely disputed among the general public, yet it is not reflected in the American education. The psychological similarity between the two creative medium is only the tip of the iceberg when one examines the uncanny neurological equivalence of the two creative outlets. The fact that the visual parts of the brain are activated while drawing may seem obvious. It may be less apparent that the same “visual and image processing” in the “parieto-frontal-temporal network” are engaged during writing tasks. In a study entitled fMRI study testing the Neural Correlates of Creative Writing, Shah et al. reported that writing activates parts of the right side of the brain. This improves specific memory and cognitive abilities in a person. Another study focusing on the brain differences of artists versus non artists discovered that fine artists also tend to have a “stronger right-brain presence.” Furthermore, artists showed to handle a larger “cognitive load,” have better “storage and controlled attention in the memory tasks,” and can better cope with “dual tasks.” This means the regular production of art exercises the brain in such a way that one’s memory, cognitive speed, and integration ability are improved just like writing was shown to do in Shah et al. Art and writing affect a subject’s neurological functions in similar ways. So what caused a shift away from the arts in education? The reason can be traced to the federal No Child Left Behind and Common Core programs, which prioritized science and math over other subjects. In LA County, for example, 1/3 of the arts teachers were let go between 2008 and 2012, and for half of K-5 students, art was cut all together. How can a program that’s supposedly trying to make education better, do such a terrible job keeping something as strong as art? It is obvious that art is seen as something beneath other activities such as writing even though they are so similar. An programs like the No Child Left Behind and Common Core are what continue to push our culture in the ignorant direction of ignoring art. Despite these paired benefits of writing and fine arts, writing continues to be a core subject in schools and art is often pushed to the sidelines. Casual endeavors into writing and fine arts can result in a significant boost in creativity and problem solving abilities for all ages. Both subjects are effective stress relievers, and repeated practice of either creative medium results in similar brain activations and modifications. Given these facts, fine arts should be given a greater focus in schools and deserves the same respect as language arts.
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