Art is Good for the Heart

University is over, my education has finished. It’s time to head out into the big wide world and make something of myself. Graduation hasn’t even come round yet and I’m already in a graduate internship, but I don’t believe I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the arts. As a child, I was always getting involved in activities involving the arts, something that appears to have declined within the new generation of children.

The arts for some is a way of expressing yourself, in a way that words can’t justify.

So, what is it that is preventing children from entering this influential and dynamic world? The announcement that the number of children pursuing art GCSEs has dramatically fallen shocked me, especially because now the arts are being pushed out of the school curriculum. Have schools become so focused on academic subjects that they’ve forgotten how important the arts are to our way of life?

From conducting research into the decline of arts in the school curriculum, one issue comes to rise – social class. Researchers say that children from low-income backgrounds are less likely to pursue artistic activities due to costs associated with them. In today’s world, why should one’s social class determine the path they take in life? We aren’t living in Victorian times anymore; children shouldn’t have their involvement in the arts restricted due to their background or their parent’s income. Art is for everyone.

Having the arts in the school curriculum is a way of abolishing the social class divide, meaning any child can become involved without parents worrying about costs. By removing these subjects, the divide becomes apparent, meaning those who want to become involved can’t due to expenses that their parents can’t afford.

As a youngster I loved anything to do with art. I spent a lot of time during primary and junior school participating in extracurricular activities that I found enjoyable and rewarding. I joined art clubs and a Saturday school drama group.

Art and drama definitely helped with my overall development, which grew my confidence and enabled me to make a strong group of friends who were supportive of each other’s ideas. It taught me discipline, teamwork, and best of all: how to express myself. Winning several school art competitions gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me proud of the work I was producing.

When the time came for me to choose my GCSE subjects, I was completely torn between the different paths I could take. The pressure of deciding what qualifications to pursue was stressful. I was keen to take up a GCSE in art until I was completely put off by older students who told me the reality of the course.

I see art as something that can’t be graded. Art is something interpreted differently by every individual. Previous students had told me how harsh the exam boards were with the marks given to students’ work, and how hard it is to gain a high grade. On results day, I saw fellow classmates burst into tears about their GCSE art grades. However, a lot of the work I had seen on display was extremely impressive, and it was clear all of the students had worked very hard on their individual pieces. Maybe this was a sign of things to come.

Instead, I pursued drama, food technology and media studies. After being a part of my Saturday school drama club for around ten years, it was somewhere that felt like home. The stage was my canvas; our ideas became our drawing tools. I always looked forward to my drama lessons, as each one was always different. No one would try to outdo each other, we were one team and any ideas were welcome. Drama gave me a strong group of friends and helped me to think creatively in everything I did.

So after hearing that the arts are slowly being squeezed out of the school curriculum, I felt disappointed in our education system. It seems that many educationalists grasp the concept of artistic subjects as being ‘narrow’, but why? In the past, I’ve felt as though some educators have tried to scare students into avoiding the arts, with comments such as “Oh, but you won’t get a good job if you do GCSE art/drama” or “You do realise artists don’t make very much money?” Surely personal happiness is a lot more valuable than the number of digits on your payslip?

I became involved in the arts from a young age, and it is something that sticks with me even to this day. I did art GCSEs and I’m in a comfortable position despite finishing university two months ago. I didn’t want a mediocre job after finishing university, so when the opportunity to take on a communications role with Threshold came up, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to work for a company who strive for diversity in our society, and encourage the younger generation to take relevant routes in arts and media. And that’s what I’ve got. Threshold have been my main support in opening doors into my future career.

If our education system abolishes the arts, we’re going to end up with a new generation of young people with no artistic flair. No diversity, no expression, no cultural appreciation.

If arts subjects are to soon completely disappear, schools should put a plan in place to continue offering opportunities in the arts for students. Activities such as after school clubs would still give students the support needed, without restricting them to producing pieces of work that meet a certain brief. From this, students are free to express themselves fully through the work they produce.

I thank the arts every day for the opportunities I have been given, and all of the wonderful people I have met. Without the arts I truly believe I would not be where I am today. Art has made me see the world in a completely different perspective, made me appreciate different cultures, and opened my eyes to a different way of thinking.

Rachael Wix is Threshold’s Communications and Events Assistant, joining the team as part of our RADAR Graduate Accelerator Scheme. She will be soon be graduating from the University of Lincoln with a BA in Journalism.