Although art programs are getting less and less attention in schools, no one is more insistent that it is one of the most important parts of the curriculum than Kevin Hsieh.
Hsieh, who is from Taiwan, is an art education professor at Georgia State. He grew up around his mother making art, where he said it was “integrated into daily life.” Hsieh himself has been involved with art since high school, where an art teacher took him under her wing. Now, Hsieh is looking to have a similar influence, and to urge his students to do the same.
“I always told myself, if [I] can save one student, I’m successful,” said Hsieh.
Hsieh started his career as an art teacher in Taiwan, where he started experimenting with different teaching methods. In doing this, he discovered many things about art and how to teach art. Hsieh has come a long way since then. Not only is he a professor, he also serves as a member on the faculty advisory board for the Undergraduate Research Conference.
Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed was passed in 2002, there have been cuts to art programs across the country. Even members of the board for GSURC have discussed cutting out art and music from the conference.
Hsieh said he was upset when these doubts about art as a science came up.
“If you ask me if art is a science … I think it is, because you give the student a problem … [and] they try to generate an answer and they will test it out,” he said.
According to Hsieh, it is the process of art that is more important than the result when looking at art as a research.
Hsieh said that based on research, it is less likely for a student to drop out if the school offers art classes.
It turns out this is true. Based on a study by Douglas Israel for The Center for Arts Education, students exposed to a curriculum including a fine arts program are more likely to graduate. Hsieh has had years of experience teaching art to people of all ages, and he himself has experienced how profound a fine arts program can be. He said art class is a place where students are free to express themselves and be themselves. This gives them confidence, just like it gave him confidence going through school.
In fact, having a fine arts program may be much more beneficial than many people realize, especially for children and young adults of low socio-economic status. The National Endowment of the Arts did a study in which they discovered that students (specifically those of low socio-economic status) are more likely to succeed in many areas of life if they are exposed to an arts programs as opposed to if they have little to no exposure to a fine arts program.
Refer to the chart below for statistics from the NEA study. The link for this study can be found at the end of this article.
Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, not only has there been budget cuts for art programs across the country, but there has been more focus on standardized test scoring in reading and math. The act requires that students between the grades of 3-8 be tested on these subjects every year. Since the act puts more pressure on the schools for their students to perform well in these areas, many have made budget cuts in other areas since they are not being tested. The link for the full text of the law is at the end of this article.
One of the main areas affected is the art programs. A study by Robert Sabol for The AEP Wire focused on art educators affected by the No Child Left Behind Act. Of those respondents, “43% reported funding had decreased in all or some areas of their programs, particularly in the area of funding for studio materials.”
When Hsieh was teaching 6th grade art in Taiwan, one of the first activities he did with his students not only proves that art is a research, but it can be interdisciplinary. The goal was to make the classroom into a space where they could have a party. The tasks included finding material to make the room dark, figure out how to light up the room, and decorating everything. In the end, the students had created an extravagant setup for a party, the room filled with fluorescent lighting and decorations they made from hand.
The most interesting part of this is that the students took ideas from their other classes and applied it to the project. Hsieh said in social studies, the students were learning about Indian culture, so they ended up using Indian patterns on the CDs they painted. They also painted a backdrop with six figures from different cultures.
Hsieh did not instruct them to do any of this. An important part of the project was that the students came up with how to transform the room on their own. They integrated their coursework and came up with which materials to use through experimental methods such as trial-and-error.
Hsieh would give them a challenge, such as “How are we going to make this room dark? What material are we going to use?” From there, the students figured it all out on their own. A picture taken of the finished product can be seen to the below. This picture was taken by Hsieh.
Photo by: Kevin Hsieh
“We think they’re just empty vessels. We just dump everything into them and then we don’t value the other way around,” Hsieh said.
From this process, Hsieh noticed that the students were always engaged, and they had as much to give to him as he did to them.
When asked what he would change about how art programs are being treated, Hsieh simply said he tells his students that in order to make a change, they have to become a policy maker or some kind of leader in that area. In the meantime, he said to start making changes in school and work up and out from there.
Choosing to be a teacher is undoubtedly choosing a difficult career path, but it is also undoubtedly rewarding. Hsieh said he encourages his students not to be discouraged by this and that they shouldn’t give up.
“If you give up, that means you might give up 600 kids,” he said.
When Hsieh joined Facebook in 2006, his students from Taiwan who did the party project got in touch with him. Although they are all grown up, they said the only thing they really remember from school was his art class and that project.
All the links for the study can be found below, as well as the link for the National Art Education Association Advocacy page. The link for the NCLB is below as well as hyperlinked above.
Study by Douglas Isreal: https://www.cae-nyc.org/sites/default/files/docs/CAE_Arts_and_Graduation_Report.pdf
Study by Robert Sabol: http://www.aep-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/AEP-Wire-09-2010-Sabol-NCLB.pdf
National Endowment for the Arts study: https://www.arts.gov/news/2012/new-nea-research-report-shows-potential-benefits-arts-education-risk-youth
National Art Education Association Advocacy page: https://www.arteducators.org/advocacy
No Child Left Behind Act: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/107-110.pdf