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Why Study Visual Arts?
Donna Serbe-Davis
Rutgers University

Why is it important to study the visual arts? And what is the role of the visual arts in relation to Global Citizen 2000?

Art is a powerful tool of communication. The use of visual symbols constitutes one of the first known forms of human expression and communication, which has continued throughout history. All of us, including our children, understand and respond to this non-verbal form of communication. Different cultures share commonalities. One common link is that all societies have created art, revealing the common interest in issues such as survival, reproduction and death. Thus there is a universality inherent in art. However, different cultures from different historical epochs have handed down varying cultural legacies. Despite their commonalities, all cultures are characterized by their uniqueness, too.

The increasing interdependence of the contemporary world creates a need for a greater awareness and understanding of cultural diversity. Arts education provides the student with such cultural insights into other societies, promoting a trans-cultural awareness and providing a much-needed unifying force in today's global society. When students have the opportunity to study and gain insights into foreign cultures, they learn how people define themselves and what they value. Often, students become cognizant of demeaning ethnic or racial stereotypes, resulting in a more positive sense of ethnicity and community. Thus they develop a greater appreciation of and ability to work with people from different cultures. This international dialogue, our most universal language, promotes positive transcultural relationships. These relationships work to foster mutual respect among differing cultures and value-systems.

In addition to exploring works of art from other cultures, students will engage in the production of art. This highly personal experience results in a tangible product of that knowledge. Creating art enables students to intellectually understand and emotionally experience the spirit of a given culture through the student's personal experience, they learn first hand how people other than themselves define themselves and what they value.

Finally, it is imperative that today's educators become more aware of the interdisciplinary role of the visual arts. The arts are a creative and concrete manifestation of a given society's needs. They are directly related to socioeconomic, political and/or social dimensions of human existence. These different dimensions of any society cannot be separated. Thus they should be taught to students as related fields of inquiry. Moreover, in light of recent research, which suggests multiple intelligences, the use of visual imagery in the educational system is highly beneficial, regardless of the particular discipline in which it is applied. To promote education in the visual arts furthers students' ability to learn while it simultaneously fosters a greater understanding of a given culture. It demonstrates how we all share a common humanity. This knowledge also reveals what is unique and special about another culture, thereby dispelling negative stereotypes. In sum, the study of the visual arts creates a more informed, insightful and responsible global citizen.

To learn more about the influence of Visual Arts on our global society, click on the links below:
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