One of the judges of the Youngstown State University English Festival Art Contest stared at the group of 22 entries from the grades 7-9 division. The Associate Professor of the YSU Art Department had already looked at more than 100 other entries spread out over the long tables in the English Department's Conference Room.
"Is art being eliminated in middle school?" she mused aloud.
She later explained that she was impressed by the imagination and creativity of the young artists. However, her trained view caused her to note that the artists in grades 10-12 displayed signs of formal art instruction in addition to natural talent. The work of the younger entrants seemed to lack the art education techniques of the older contestants.
The art judge is aware of the funding and budgetary choices which confound local school boards in the five counties which YSU serves. Students who graduate from colleges and universities nationwide in art education know only too well that jobs in that field have been disappearing for the last decade.
Each year, I read several articles and papers which are the product of exhaustive research about the importance of the arts in our K-12 schools. Despite the preponderance of evidence, the reality remains clear: music, physical education, performing and visual arts programs continue to "take hits" in school budgets.
I have read the opposing view too. Economists suggest that we graduate more artists than our society needs. We need more graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) than we need in FPA (Fine and Performing Arts). The pursuit of STEM degrees must begin by fostering these subjects in younger grades.
Proponents of this side of the issue cite as proof the standardized test scores in Science and Math especially in middle school and high school.
Some people claim that the debate centers on left-brain, right-brain issues. If readers are thinking that I have the perfect answer to end the debate, they will be disappointed. Part of me simply asks, "Why can't we all just get along?"
Not that I am sitting on the fence in this controversy: I truly believe that we could adequately fund and foster all of the human pursuits in both areas. We just have to temper our attraction to other pursuits.
For example, a recent PBS program documented the construction of a new high rise apartment building in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. The two penthouse suites have already been sold for ninety million dollars each. As a viewer, I beheld the work of mathematicians, engineers, scientists, architects, artists, and decorators during the one hour broadcast. They all worked together, and they profited from their joint labors. You can bet that in New York City, residents of that building will be supporters of Broadway shows, art museums, operas and symphonies.
Although I will never be invited to one of those luxury condos, much less ever live in one, I was reminded of the patronage system which is centuries old. Even in the Middle Ages, artisans and craftsmen sought wealthy patrons to fund their work. Lately, we have heard and read much about the division of wealth in our nation: The 1 percent versus the other 99 percent.
Those of us in the 99 percent might have to think differently and adjust our attachments. For instance, my wife is a proud graduate of Warren G. Harding High, but in the future, wouldn't it serve us better if our children were graduates of Warren E. Buffett High School? I wouldn't be opposed to driving my grandchildren to the JP Morgan Chase Middle School or the Goldman Sachs Grade School.
Certainly, all human endeavors would be fostered and taught in those places, and the most imaginative and brightest minds would be nurtured and guided into the right paths. Then, maybe owners of luxurious dwellings in the "Big Apple" would demand the cabinetry in the kitchens be crafted in Northeast Ohio rather than in the United Kingdom, and they would fill their homes with the future art work of YSU English Festival artists.
Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org