Everyone should make art

Why spend money teaching kids arts and music when we can drug them into submission?

Not only did yesterday’s painting class develop their brains, they watched an osprey family on that nest on the pole.

 As a parent, I skirmished with my kids’ school about doodling. I agreed to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for my youngest just so they would let him doodle in class. To me it was obvious that doodling helps kids who are stressed from sitting in one place for too long.

A few years ago, I wrote about a teenager arrested for doodling. Sadly, it wasn’t the only time it happened.

I tell my students to carry a sketchbook at all times, mostly to help them improve their drawing chops. I draw whenever I’m waiting or listening. I’ve drawn through twenty years of church sermons, and I don’t think it’s damaged my ability to hear what my pastors have said.
Sadly, my kids’ school didn’t agree. Even with an IEP, drawing in class was eventually banned for my son. (The good news is, as an autonomous college student, his grades are great.)
Gwendolyn Linn taught a class within one of my painting classes. Her audience was rapt.
Science tells us that doodling-repression is flat-out wrong. A recently study at Drexel University used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the so-called ‘reward pathway’ of the brain while subjects drew.
They were tested while doing three different short activities: coloring in a mandala, doodled within or around a pre-marked circle, and free drawing. All three activities caused an increase in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.
Of course, the medial prefrontal cortex is not just the ‘happy button’ that gets turned on when you do something enjoyable or misuse drugs. It’s also involved in planning, personality, decision-making and moderating social behavior. Among its more important processes is the development of a sense of self and that Holy Grail of educators, executive function.
Nancy Woogen working on her pre-frontal cortex in my Sea & Sky Workshop a few years ago.
Doodling in or around the circle had the greatest neural impact, followed by free drawing and coloring. Mostly, the differences weren’t significant. The exception was for subjects who self-identified as artists. For them, coloring inside the lines turned out to be a negative experience.
There have been many studies with similar results. Training in drawing is associated with an increase in brain gray matter and changes in the prefrontal cortex. Making art improves the functional connectivity between cortices. Even passive engagement with art helps brain function.
Studies have shown similar positive results on the brain from making and listening to music.
Still, the arts are the orphan stepchildren of our educational system. They’re the first thing cut. But why spend money teaching our kids arts and music when we can drug them into submission?
Corinne Avery rearranging dinghies at another workshop, this time at Camden harbor.
Note: I’m demoing painting today at Windjammer Days in Boothbay Harbor from 1-4 PM. My pals Ed Buonvecchio and Bobbi Heath will also be there, along with my two favorite schooners, American Eagle and Heritage. If you’re free, come see us. You may discover a whole new way of lighting up the neural pathways in your brain.