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"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

Posted on: 05 Apr 2017

Serena O’Connor, Head of Art at Walden School argues that the arts should not be viewed as ‘soft subjects’; being artistic and scientific often goes hand in hand.

"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

Twyla Tharp


This humorous quote from Tharp touches upon one of the most important elements of creativity and why it is so important in education. It speaks of escape, imagination and autonomy and art is this and so much more: self -expression, visual thinking, observation, skill, problem-solving to name but a few.


One of the most frustrating aspects of the teaching of the arts is the ‘pigeon-holing’ of the subjects’. This extends from politics right down to the classroom. Students will characterise themselves as ‘arty’ or ‘science/mathematical’ – rarely both. There is also the intimation that just because someone is ‘good at art’, they are not necessarily bright or clever. I would argue the complete opposite. The study of art encourages us to think and understand visually: it generates another way of thinking other than the acquisition of knowledge through words and numbers. It is also one of a few subjects where the student has autonomy. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in art; no red cross in the margin. A student’s work is his/her own and I believe that this personal voice is something that can foster confidence and higher order thinking.


In recent years the government has viewed the arts as ‘soft subjects’ and have sought to demote their importance in favour of the more ‘robust’ science subjects. What will become of the student who thrives in the arts, whilst struggling in other ‘academic’ subjects? We all know this kind of student: they are the ones who bound in the art room at break and lunchtimes; they are the ones whose sketchbooks are bursting at the seams with ideas, experimentation, drawings and pride. Are they to be pushed into choosing other subjects at GCSE and A level in order to have a qualification of ‘significance’? Do they have to cram their bare feet into a tight shoe because one size fits all and then fail? At present he/she gains confidence and status within the school because art is on a par with other subjects. I really hope that this will continue. We are all creative and the creativity within us needs to nurtured and explored for self-expression and all that has been mentioned above. You can be artistic and be good at sciences; indeed creativity is what helps the development of ideas in all subjects. It is an absolute 'must’!

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About Serena O’Connor

Serena O’Connor is Head of Art at Walden School in Saffron Walden, Essex.