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How to Respond When Things Get HardJennifer Sullivan
In a world that seems increasingly focused on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), it’s easy to feel like there’s no place left for the arts.
In fact, studying the arts can benefit college students in many ways. Even if your student doesn’t intend to pursue a career in the arts, prioritizing an artistic pursuit as part of a well-rounded education can help them find academic, career and personal success.
Students who have played music, painted, written stories and poems, danced or participated in any other type of artistic activity in the years leading up to high school graduation bring many skills that will help them succeed in college.
Those skills include:
Students are busy enough as it is. Between the demands of classes, homework, chores, sports, their personal life and maybe a part-time job or volunteer commitment, it’s hard to make time for much else.
Finding time for art requires your student to develop some serious time management skills. Whether it’s waking up extra early for a 7 a.m. jazz band rehearsal or setting aside time to write creatively between piles of schoolwork, students who participate in the arts are more likely than others to have figured out how to handle a complicated schedule and use their time productively.
A student who studies the arts knows the importance of discipline when it comes to developing their skills. For example, they understand that the more they practice the piano between lessons, the faster they’ll improve.
They know how to make time for something that might not always be fun, because they know it will pay off. Not only that, they’ve learned from experience that they need to be diligent in doing the same work over and over again to refine their technique.
Students with this experience bring the kind of doggedness to their college studies that makes a real difference in their final GPA.
Understanding the value of hard work
Practicing isn’t always fun. And taking criticism and going back to the drawing board to redo a painting or novel draft from scratch isn’t necessarily morale-boosting.
But students who study the arts learn that hard work pays off. It may not be fun to prioritize practicing the trumpet six hours a week, but when they nail that solo beautifully to resounding applause, it’s all worth it.
This understanding can be carried over into other academic endeavors. Going over the same calculus problem time and time again may be tedious, but they know that if they want to become (literally) a rocket scientist, they’ve got to stick with it. When they’re unveiling the spaceship that will take humans to Mars in 20 years, they’ll be glad they did.
Learning how to learn
Because the arts are not as cut and dried as other subjects, students must bring a certain creativity to the learning process.
Every student artist develops their techniques differently and often independently — over time, they learn the best ways to learn.
Whether it’s through one-on-one lessons, extensive repetition, watching online videos, or other approaches, student artists become well acquainted with their own personal strengths and weaknesses as learners and are motivated to seek out the learning strategies that work best for them.
This helps when it comes to college classes of any sort. They can apply the flexible and creative learning techniques they’ve developed as artists to better learn whatever subject they’re studying in school.
After a college student graduates, their time studying the arts will help in their professional lives, regardless of the line of work they end up in.
The skills that contributed to their success in school (time management, self-discipline, understanding the value of hard work, and learning how to learn) will make them a great asset to any company.
Studying the arts teaches other skills that are a big help in the professional world. These skills are:
Being open to criticism
Studying art teaches students how to receive, process and apply constructive criticism. For example, fiction writers are all too familiar with the workshop, in which a group of other writers dissects their work, picking apart what’s working and what isn’t.
While it may not be fun at first to hear that their magnum opus is full of plot holes and clichés, the student writer knows that, by staying open-minded and seriously considering their peers’ feedback, they can turn their good story into a great one.
In the business world, people aren’t likely to be any less critical. Student artists know how to receive the criticism and use it to improve their work.
When you make a film, record an album, write a story or paint a landscape, you develop the skills of creative problem-solving:
Artists are creative problem solvers. There is no one solution to how to make a piece of art successfully connect with an audience, to make a reader or viewer feel what the artist wants them to feel.
There are many solutions to artistic problems, and many constraining factors as well. Some things are logistically more doable than others because of time, money and scale.
The same is true in the business world. A Super Bowl ad is a great idea for any marketing campaign, but it’s only a financial possibility for a handful of the biggest companies. How to advertise a new product without a massive budget is a problem that requires a creative mindset — a tool that every artist brings to the table.
There are almost countless ways that a pursuit of the arts can improve the physical and emotional health of students. Some of the ones that stand out include:
Motor skill development
Activities like playing an instrument, painting, sculpting and dancing help with the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The younger students are when they begin, the better!
Artistic work like writing or reading sheet music uses unique parts of the brain that make for stronger overall brain health.
Self-confidence and personal fulfillment
When completing something that a million others have done, like a standard math problem, a student is sure to experience satisfaction. But making art gives students a unique form of confidence, because they produce a totally original piece that makes others feel something.
Knowing that they can make something beautiful or powerful provides the kind of self-confidence that can help them find and spread happiness in their personal life and throughout their larger world.
This is a very fulfilling realization. Many people who aren’t particularly thrilled with their day job find deep satisfaction in their after-hours artistic pursuits, whether it’s playing in a band or spending time in a pottery studio.
An artist knows how hard it is to create a great piece of art. Artists fail all the time. And when they see a piece that works, or when they create one themselves, they know the effort and skill and luck that came together to make it possible.
The process of trying and failing and then trying again and again until they succeed teaches humility, a trait that is very valuable in relationship-building, whether it be with romantic partners, friends or family.
In order to make great art, a student needs to consider the mindset of the viewer, the reader, the listener. And since art is subjective, each member of the audience can bring their own interpretation to a piece.
This is true in personal life as well. In a relationship, two partners or co-workers may come to the same challenge with a different mindset. Student artists have the opportunity to develop the skill of empathy, of being open-minded to how another person views something.
Many parents of college students feel that, while all of the above is valid, they’d prefer their student to draw the line and keep art as a hobby.
If you feel the same way, it's more than understandable. It's challenging for new college graduates to find a good job and you may worry that, if your student pursues a liberal arts degree, they're setting themselves up for a life of struggle.
The reality is there are very good reasons to get a liberal arts degree, and many reasons why you should be supportive of your student’s decision to do so.
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