26 November 2006

Art for Art

A reason commonly given for the importance of early music education is that it enhances a child’s test scores in other areas, most notably math. I haven’t cared to look up the data because the whole idea seems utterly misguided. I see these findings employed chiefly in three ways:

1) By companies trying to sell “learning enhancement” products
2) By music teachers desperately fighting for funding in high schools (or other institutions).
3) By concerned parents who bought what was being sold by those in #1.

The problem is that the argument ignores the value of music in and of itself, focusing instead on how music makes us better at other things. The message many people get, consciously or subconsciously, is that, “Music is good because it makes you better at things that actually matter.” With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why people decide to strip funding from music and redistribute it to math and science—because, after all, math and science are actually useful.

Even if funding were not reduced, there is still the problem that making “brain power” the goal will inevitably cause people to overlook the cultural benefits of the humanities. Imagine what would be lost if the entire focus of a reading of Hamlet was to expand one’s vocabulary, rather than to experience the angst of a man torn between loyalty and love. I think the better solution is to promote music for the good that music directly provides.

An obvious parallel exists in the Church. Bishop Brown spoke about this years ago:

“Brethren, sometimes Aaronic Priesthood work is misdirected. Sometimes when leaders see young men losing interest in the Church, they redouble their attempts to devise major events week after week, including super-activities, teen-age parties, and visits to exotic places, hoping thereby to compete with school activities, clubs, or television for the attention of our youth. ‘Entertaining activities are what our young people want’ some leaders seem to think, and ‘we have to give them what they want if we are going to keep them active.’ Even though young people may attend such activities for a time, they experience no conversion through them, often consider it no special honor to hold the priesthood, and then move into adulthood immature and poorly prepared for service to the Church and mankind.” (Ensign, Nov 1975, 66)

For a somewhat related post from another blog, please see here.


BrianJ said...

I should mention that I'm not opposed to finding additional uses for/benefits of music and the humanities; if Mozart helps you with calculus, then go ahead and play the symphonies while you write the integrals. Just don't confuse additional with primary.

Robert C. said...

Great post and great quote. This reminds me of themes addressed in Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing where he takes the "double-mindedness" passage in James 1 and says this includes serving others with an eye on earning a reward rather than serving others out of pure love (I like Chapters 4 and 6 in particular...).

Aaron said...

Sorry for posting late. I have to comment on this subject.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Being good at business should be the means for life. Not life itself. Art is the communication of the beauty, ugliness, tranquility, chaos, emotion, feeling of life, etc, etc. What is the point to business achievement if you have sacrificed your life for it. Often in the pursuit of getting ahead we get further behind.

Beauty is its' own reward. Art is important because life is important.