Art and Education

Maggie Gilliam
Abby Goering
Paige Jones

Huntington University


The purpose of this research was to show the importance of art in a student's educational experience. This study focused on a student's emotional expression, social confidence, and academic excellence. These areas of research were measured with survey questions that examined students' participation in the arts and how it affected them in these three areas. The survey allowed participants to reflect on their personal experiences and rate the success that they noticed.

Literature Review     

"Art lessons have been found to have an impact on character understanding, comprehension of character motivation, increased quality and quantity of peer-to-peer interactions, increased conflict-resolution skills, and improved problem-solving dispositions" (Brouillette, 2010).  Do the arts encourage one's self-growth?  Much research has been conducted on the effects of having the fine arts readily available to students and their subsequent development. 

"Fine arts" refers to areas of learning and expression that are seen as artistic. These areas include painting, theatre, sculpting, music, dance, digital visuals, and even martial arts (Boughton, 2005; Chen, 2006; Twemlow et al., 2008; Stolp, 2012). The arts provide a way of expressing emotion sometimes with and sometimes without spoken word. Young children cannot always express themselves verbally and so different treatments such as play therapy have provided children an avenue for expressing their emotions. For young children, the arts could include playing dress-up, as that could be seen as a form of theatre, or finger painting and other crafts. As a child grows the arts tend to become more specific, such that even decorating a cake could be seen as art. The term "education" refers to the actual schools in which formal learning takes place. Also included are after-school programs and extracurricular programs (Lutfi & Respress, 2006; Clark, 2007; Allen, Edmonson, & Fisher, 2008; Twenlow et al., 2008; Brouillette, 2010; Metsäpelto & Pulkkinen, 2012; Sanders, 2013). The educational setting provides a learning atmosphere for children.  

Related to the presence of fine arts in education, the question that has been often posed is: How have the arts aided education in the past and why should the fine arts be in every child's education? There have been many studies that have looked at the importance of the fine arts within the schools and how the arts have had a positive influence on education (Allen et al., 2008; Brouillette, 2010). Art has been found to serve a critical developmental function and thus increases children's ability to be creative and show where they are developmentally in a deeper more expressive way than a standardized test (Hanline, Milton, & Phelps, 2007).

One of the other significant findings from previous research is that the fine arts are not only having an impact on students academically, through better grades and understanding of material, but also psychologically and personally. One particular study found that "training in artistic skills considerably enhanced mental imagine capacity" (Campos & Pérez-Fabello, 2007, pg. 231). This means that students who underwent longer artistic training were found to have better results on tests due to spatial representation, spatial relations, and memory. Another study, focusing on school violence, looked at the effects that martial arts had on aggression, and it was found that "participation was negatively associated with change in aggression and positively associated with change in helpful bystander behavior" (Twemlow et al., 2008, p. 956). This may perhaps be because of mind-body integration that helps students use physical expressions to communicate their mental state. There are also several studies that have looked at a student's involvement in the arts compared to other extracurricular activities. These studies have often found that being involved in the fine arts over other activities such as sports and clubs is not particularly "better" than the other activities but rather that being involved in general is important to student success (Denault & Poulin, 2009; Brown & Linnemeyer, 2010). 

Previous research has pointed to an overall positive response to having the arts in schools. The arts have had a positive effect on students' cognitive, psychological, and personal growth as well as helping students work through cultural differences and spirituality as seen in studies done by McMurtary and Landsman (McMurtary, 2007; Landsman, 2011). The present research looked at the importance of the influence of arts throughout the education of students on their emotional expression, social confidence, and academic excellence. Fine arts was defined as the areas of learning that are seen as artistic. This could include activities such as painting, theater, sculpting, music, dance, digital visuals, and even martial arts. Emotional expression was defined as students' ability to cope and freely express emotion without feeling like they are being judged. The term social confidence was used to define a student's comfort in social settings and interactions. Academic excellence was defined as a student's ability to show comprehension of educational material through self-reporting. This study was designed to encourage the continuation of the arts in grade schools as it was believed the lasting impact would be beneficial for all students.



The participants selected for this research were undergraduate students from a small liberal arts Christian university in northeast Indiana. The respondents were roughly between the ages of 17-25. The sample was a simple random sample of students. All undergraduate students with a declared major were contacted about the study and provided a link to complete the survey. Students were given multiple weeks to respond on their own time. Out of the students that received the link 173 students took the survey. Roughly 16 percent of the students who received the survey responded. The identity of the students was kept anonymous. Students were able to take this survey wherever they wished and at any time that was convenient for them. The survey included eighteen brief questions. The University curriculum at least two fine arts classes that are required for graduation. This meant that all of the participants had some fine art experiences.


Quantitative data were collected through an online survey made up of multiple choice and demographic questions. The questions were subjective, and most of them used a rating scale of one to five where 1=low, 5=high. The four areas of interest included the amount of involvement in the arts, how they felt that arts had effected their emotional expression, their social confidence, and their academic performance in relation to their peers.


The first step was submission to the IRB board of Huntington University. Once the research was approved on ethical grounds, the survey was developed and the researchers reviewed the questions in a pilot study during our class period. After the survey was improved, an email, containing a link to the online survey, was sent to the student body of the undergraduate program asking students to participate if they desired. Some professors offered students extra credit for completing the survey. The data were collected through the online site, and after all of the surveys were in, the research was analyzed.


When analyzing the types of activities outside of the classroom, the researchers noticed there was a lot of participation in musical artistic expressions such as a band, orchestra, choir, or individual music lessons. There were also a lot of church activities such as a worship choir or a church drama team. Students participated in theater groups in the community as well. There were also some clubs that provided art and drawing. This qualitative research gives us an insight as to the involvement of participants in areas of art.

The first area of study was to examine whether or not participation in the arts improved emotional expression, social confidence, and academic excellence. We looked at how art exposure affected these three areas. We defined art exposure as participation in classes throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and extra-curricular activities outside of school. We conducted a Pearson r correlation with our arts exposure variables against the ratings of how the participants felt they were affected emotionally, socially, and academically. The results showed (see Table 1) that there was a significant relationship between art exposure and their comfort in social settings and interactions. Significance was p>.001 and the correlation was r=.262 which shows that the more art exposure someone had, the more comfortable they felt in social settings. There was no significance shown in coping with emotion and their academic rating for themselves in relation to their peers.

Table 1

The second area of study was to focus on whether or not art exposure affected their views on whether or not they had found art in their educational experiences as beneficial to their growth in the three different areas that include emotional expression, social confidence, and academic excellence. A Pearson r correlation showed that there is a significant correlation of p>.000 between art exposure and expressing emotion. The correlation is r=.274, showing the positive impact of art. There was also significance in arts helping social confidence. Significance was p>.000 and the correlation was r=.388. This means that participants also felt like the arts had helped them express their emotions in a healthier way. The final correlation was between art exposure and academic excellence was r=.448 and the significance was p>.000. Once again participants believed that their art education had aided their academic excellence.

Overall, the results showed a larger correlation between student's opinions about how art had affected them and that art exposure does not necessarily dictate actual growth in expressing emotion or academic excellence.


The results of this research indicate that art programs have a perceived value in students' lives and can help students in other areas of their lives. The researchers predicted that the research would compare to findings in other studies and show that art exposure throughout the years would help students cope with their emotions, feel comfortable in social settings, and excel academically. Our data showed that there was a significant correlation between art exposure and feeling comfortable in social settings. This means that participating in art can help students feel comfortable expressing themselves in a new form which gives them confidence to express themselves in social situations.

There was no correlation between art exposure and emotional coping or academics in relation to their peers. Because such a wide range of artistic outlets were included in this study, such as music or martial arts, it would be beneficial for future research to narrow in on one or two different art forms and study the nuances. Art programs such as painting or theater may allow students to learn better emotional coping skills than other programs such as a band where there is more structure and less artistic freedom involved.

In future research a participant's field of study should also be taken into consideration. We did not find a correlation between art exposure and academic excellence. In our research we surveyed college students and we asked them about how they would currently compare their academics to their peers. Perhaps their field of study is currently impacting their academics more than a high school student would experience. It would be interesting to compare academic excellence in a core high school class instead of a class that pertains to one particular field.

Our research showed a significant correlation between art exposure and how much students believed that it positively impacted their ability to express emotions, feel socially confidant, and achieve academic excellence. This shows that students believe that the arts have had a significant impact on their lives.

The benefit of this study was that participants were able to look collectively at all of their schooling years to determine if art has impacted them. Unlike other studies where certain ages were tested or surveyed, our study allowed participants to self-reflect and make a statement on what the arts meant to them. For schools that are considering art education cuts, it would be beneficial for them to pay attention to the opinion of students who have gone through the educational system.

A limitation of this study was in the data collection. Because a survey was used, participants were not able to express the true extent of their art experience. Perhaps a hands-on study that allowed participants to take part in an activity before the data collection would have been a better representation of how participants react in response to art exposure.

Overall this study showed that art programs do help students feel more comfortable in social settings. If teachers are looking for ways to engage their classrooms and reach out to the shy kids, then they should consider incorporating more art in their curriculum to allow these students the chance to express themselves. It is a way for teachers to bring kids outside of their comfort zones and gain confidence in themselves. The results of this study should be considered by educational administrators when budgets are tight and art programs are being considered for cuts. Ideally this would mean that arts will be continued in the regular curriculum and that there will not be barriers for students to pursue artistic outlets.


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