Teach Arts or Wither

Why is it important to teach the arts and specifically, creativity via the arts to young people in schools?

Consider one randomly selected example: the live meat trade.

The arguments for continuing this trade have been that it produces an overseas market for Australian sheep and cows, and that if Australia didn’t meet that market, other Nations would. Further, it’s argued that the market employs Australians. Together, these two arguments form the bedrock for continuing the status quo.

Yet these arguments are incredibly porous and by 2024 the majority (70%) of the Australian public have seen through them. The counter arguments that more Australian’s could be employed if we changed the business model, that the costs of transporting live animals was prohibitive, and that the suffering caused to the animals being transported, particularly those on long journeys to hot climates, was barbaric and immoral finally won the day and the practice is set to be banned.

Yet even though the counter arguments are stronger, this change has been a long time in the making, because what the arguments for continuing the status quo really showed, was a group of people guided by a conservative politics that imprisoned them in a traditional mindset to the point that they couldn’t imagine other potentialities. So deeply entrenched in a particular world view, they were unable to see the prison walls they’d built for themselves and how it was holding them back from exploring other, and better alternatives. This is seen time and again regards adapting to climate change or changing social mores and practices.

At its core, creativity is a tool and process of how to see and engage with problems and obstacles, which can be used positively or negatively. It’s engaged as part of a worldview that doesn’t accept the traditional way of doing things as the only way, or the best way. That’s not to suggest the traditional way is not the best way, as sometimes it is, and sometimes our excitement for the creative and innovative can led us away from what might be best for us, individually and/or collectively. Yet ultimately, creativity simply asks of us to explore without bias and with an open mind: what are the options and alternatives to be considered here?

Now, more than ever, this is a vitally important lesson to be teaching the next generation. Young and older alike need to see problems and obstacles as exciting challenges to their creativity. And then, instead of entrenching themselves in fear of the unknown, feeling as though they need to hold back the tide of change, which often leads to anxiety, they can embrace change and problems as an engaging puzzle to be solved; a mystery to be unlocked.

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We are all born creative!

Creativity is a like a muscle, or an immune system. Put it in an environment that challenges it with discomfort, and it’ll strengthen. Yet let it remain dormant and unchallenged and it’ll wither to the point it seems non-existent. And creativity is not the domain of any specific person or area of interest. While the “arts” are typically for people with a specific focus and passion for the creative act, creativity itself can be, and is, equally important in sports, business, health, politics, sales etc. It’s everywhere and in everyone!

If we don’t teach creativity so that help young people feel comfortable and confident with their creative expression and potential, educating them to understand what it is, how it’s strengthened, how it can be applied and why it’s important, then we shouldn’t be surprised when those same young people grow into adults, and when faced with rapidly shifting social and cultural dynamics, choose to try and cling to a status quo, the safe and the known, and become riven with anxiety, rather than openly and optimistically considering alternatives.

A recent social media post shared by a friend illustrates this point.

The shared post was written by a person who was anxious and unhappy about the direction AI was moving. They wrote:

I want AI to do my laundry and dishes so that I can do art and writing, not for AI to do my art and writing so that I can do my laundry and dishes.

Fair enough, and I understand the sentiment. However, it’s interesting to respond:

AI is here, whether we like it or not. And if the pursuit of art and creativity have taught us anything, then surely it’s how to adapt to obstacles and change with positivity.

We’ll now need to turn doing the dishes and laundry into our versions of art.

By jb.

jb. was a former professional dancer, choreographer, and actor and is now a writer and co-founder and Managing Director of The Library Aesthetic.

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