“Shaping a world before me”: The benefits of studying art

Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

Every time I sit down at the pottery wheel with a ball of clay spinning beneath my hands, I feel a sense of calm wash over me. It is the kind of calm that can be hard to find during a hectic day of school. As the clay runs through my fingers, I feel as though I am shaping a world before me. The clay can become anything that I imagine. This feeling is something unique to the arts courses that the school provides.

The extensive selection of visual and performing arts courses is one of my favorite things about Horace Mann. Throughout my years at the school, I have had the opportunity to try a variety of visual arts courses such as photography and ceramics, in addition to being part of one of the school’s choirs each year. Each of these classes has provided me the time to relax during the long and heavily academic school day. I urge all students to choose to take art classes due to the countless benefits that they can have on your mental health, academic performance, and so much more.

So, why should you choose to take arts courses?

  1. An education in the arts directly complements an education in the core academic subjects, spurring us to learn more effectively. Art allows for our imagination to flow, which in turn allows us to think in more imaginative ways. Creativity is a skill that is necessary to foster good writers, mathematicians, and historians, as we are always contemplating new ways to analyze and understand various concepts. When something unexpected occurs in an art project, it must be handled discreetly, as you don’t want to risk ruining the rest of the work of art. Once, when throwing a pot, I completely messed up its lip. When faced with this challenge, I found a way to carefully and strategically remove the damaged lip to salvage the pot. This practice of problem-solving teaches us to isolate issues and to learn how to address them most effectively. 
  2. Art allows us to see ourselves in a new light by helping us realize who we are as we physically manifest our thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Creating means learning to make decisions. When producing art you are forced to make choices that will ultimately shape your artwork. Every person makes different choices and that is why all art is unique. Each image that I have chosen to draw or paint comes from my imagination or is affected in some way by my experiences. I draw from my memory and from photos that I have taken, and when I produce these ideas on paper, it allows me to envision the feelings that the memory provokes.
  3. Art courses help to relieve stress. When asked how I am feeling on a given day, the first word that comes to mind is “stressed” — a frequently uttered adjective at Horace Mann — however, art is scientifically proven to alleviate stress. According to a study done by Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, making art, no matter your skill level, can significantly lower the amounts of stress-related hormones present in your body. I always feel extremely calm while doing art, because I can focus all of my energy on one thing and leave the rest of my worries behind. When I draw in times of stress, all of my emotions flow out onto the page. The page transforms into an outlet for the pent-up intensity. I am a firm believer that we should utilize any resources possible to work more effectively in our daily lives. Arts courses are one thing that you can add to your schedule to help you accomplish this goal. After attending drawing sessions, I find that I am able to work much more productively and even think more clearly as a result.
  4. Arts courses are, more than anything, a lot of fun. The staff members that teach the courses are always very talented, experienced, and, above all, truly passionate about what they are teaching. That passion is evident in how eager they are to teach you new techniques and ideas related to whatever type of art you are engaged with. In Mr. Logan’s visual arts class, whenever I came across some type of art that I wanted to try, such as making a stamp or building my own canvas, he would help me learn how to make it. The enthusiasm that the art teachers at Horace Mann bring to their professions is one of the main reasons why I am able to absorb so much while having a blast at the same time. The courses are also a lot of fun because the stakes are low. You can learn a fun skill without having to be the very best at it. 
  5. Performance arts classes can also teach you a myriad of skills including public speaking and self-expression. From musical theatre to Concert Glee Club, the school offers unlimited options for students who wish to perform on stage. For many people, taking center stage is a step outside of their comfort zone. This was definitely the case for me when I was younger, and I still get nervous before any kind of performance. Performing on stage for the first time can be terrifying, but your confidence will grow through embarking in these courses. I have been in a school choir for six years — starting with Chorus 6 and progressing all the way through Concert Glee Club. Despite being afraid of performing in front of people when I was a sixth-grader, I was pushed to do so both in class and during concerts. There were moments when I did not want to perform, but the support I received from my teachers and peers was tremendous. I can now say that, thanks to my involvement with arts courses at the school, I have overcome that fear and can do any type of activity that involves speaking or performing in front of others. 
  6. Whether it be in an improv skit, chorus, or orchestra, performing arts forces you to interact with others to achieve your goal. Teamwork is an extremely important skill to learn in life, as you will often find yourself surrounded by other people whom you will need to work with in order to accomplish a given task. Additionally, I have made some of my closest friends during chorus classes over the years in bonding over music and singing. When you are in a room with a group of people who are just as excited as you are to act, dance, or perform, you are bound to find commonalities between yourselves which can only better your experience at Horace Mann. It is the perfect conversation starter and a great way to pursue your artistic passions!

These are just some of the many reasons why I would urge all students to take art courses. When you select an art course you should think about it not just as a graduation requirement but also as something that you will be happy to have in your schedule. While at the end of the day you may not come out of an art class as an expert potter, photographer, or filmmaker, you will have had fun, learned a new and unique skill, and made your day infinitely more enjoyable.