Six Reasons That the Arts Are the Ideal Vehicle to Teach 21st Century Success Skills

Posted by Lisa Phillips, Aug 21, 2013 21 comments

There are many things I don’t know about life and how the world works, but there are two things I know for certain. The first is that young people are less prepared for the working world than they were 20 years ago. The second is that there is something we can do about it! Don’t get me wrong, young people today are energetic, caring about the environment and passionate about social justice. However, when it comes to the skills they need to conquer the competitive nature of the working world, there is some work to be done. Success skills such as effective communication, accountability, finding solutions to challenges, and adaptability are just some of the areas that the current generation is lacking. So where can they learn them? In those “nice to have, but not need to have” programs that our school boards seem to be cutting like they were last year’s fashions…THE ARTS! If parents, educators and policy makers would just LOOK and see what I see, they would recognize an untapped opportunity to catapult 21st century students toward achieving their goals in life. I would like to offer 6 reasons why the arts offer excellent opportunities to develop these vital success skills.

1.     The Arts Don’t Focus on Right & Wrong The simple fact is, if we learn mainly in an environment in which we pump out answers that are either right or wrong, with no middle ground or room for creativity, we will begin to see the whole world as black and white. We will expect every problem to have a right answer. Participation in the arts opens up our mind to the possibility that the world is full of color and there is more than one way to achieve a goal. When the pressure of needing to find the right answer is removed, it becomes easier to take a risk and try – and trying is the only way to succeed.

2.     The Arts are Inherently Creative The desire to employ creative people is not unique to Apple. The most successful companies assemble teams of people who are able to see the big picture, to make connections and to predict market trends. Even in a fiercely competitive job market, these skills will always be in demand. Unfortunately, our traditional systems of education are not designed to produce people with these skills. In arts education children are constantly being asked to try new things and think of alternatives. This kind of thinking goes a long way toward developing the essential success skill of creativity.

3.     The Emphasis on Practice In the arts, it is understood that you will not be able to learn an instrument or be an incredible dancer over night. Developing these skills takes effort and hours and hours of practice. The arts environment encourages persistence through challenges towards mastery, a skill very much needed to thrive in the 21st century. When children participate in the arts, they will not shy away from learning things in their adult lives that are challenging, or take lots of time and effort. They would have already experienced the benefit of that level of practice through their arts training.

4.     The Focus on Feedback & Critique Feedback is a constant part of the learning process in the arts. This helps children understand that feedback should not be taken personally, but that it is meant to challenge them to push beyond what they think they are capable of achieving. A good arts teacher’s critique is specific; it tells the student what works, what does not, and what they can do to improve. If we are used to seeing feedback as fuel for improvement, our natural reaction when receiving feedback will not be to make excuses, but to ask for more feedback about how we can improve our performance.

5.     The Moment of Success Each discipline within the arts has its own method of performance or presentation – an art exhibit, a play, a dance show etc. This gives children a sense of accomplishment after all of their effort and practice. This acknowledgement translates into a strong boost of confidence and enhances their drive to continue learning and improving. They have experienced a moment of success and when that happens they are typically motivated to seek even more success.

6.     The Coping Mechanisms for Handling Stress Mental health is a growing concern in our society and often people can become overwhelmed with stress. It is important to find ways to calm ourselves during those moments. Dancing, painting or playing the piano can be a great stress reliever. These activities help us let out our frustrations, and express ourselves without needing to use words. If children develop these skills early, then as adults they will naturally gravitate toward these and will have a way to deal with stresses that come up in their lives. The world is changing so rapidly and the rules in the job market are requiring a different set of skills in order to find success. Long gone are the days when a university degree was enough to guarantee a great career. We need to wake up to the realization that the arts have a critical role to play in the development of the skills young people need to not only survive, but to thrive in the 21st century.

21 responses for Six Reasons That the Arts Are the Ideal Vehicle to Teach 21st Century Success Skills


Anne says
August 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Absolutely! Couldn't agree more.

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August 22, 2013 at 9:46 am

Its hundred percent true that the arts are full of benefits to people life. More especially to me , psychology is very beneficial which needs to be learnt and taught at all levels. I am even hoping to pursue mastsers degree in child psychology I chance on any scholarship from a university in U.S

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August 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I am astounded at how much I have learned just watching my son go to art school.

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August 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

These 6 brief points are the reason I enjoy introducing college age students to art it's eye-opening and helpful at any age!

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Crystal says
August 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I couldn't agree more. Art improves lives for kids and adults alike. The skills children gain and improve upon being creative will be with them forever and make them more productive people. Great post.

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August 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Great article, I will translate your ideas to my Brazilian family & friends. This is to read and spread! Congrats!

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Ann says
September 02, 2013 at 12:45 pm

As a middle school string teacher I often tell my students that if they can get up on stage and play their violin in front of a middle school audience, they will be well prepared to do anything as they move into the work world. Once they learn that they can organize what they want to communicate, practice and prepare their presentation, and learn to handle their fears, they will be able to face any board room, any meeting, any group that needs convincing of something, later in life. It's just one of the benefits of the performing arts.

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September 06, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Thanks so much for your interest in Lisa Phillips!

The Director of Education & Training of The Artistic Edge (Lisa's company) is actually hosting a free webinar called “Leadership in the Classroom: The How-To Guide to Creating Quick, Engaging and Meaningful Lesson Plans.

If you’re a teacher you can get some Professional Development hours as well.

If you’re interested check out the link:

Charlotte, Director of Business Development

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JPetkau says
August 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm

And there's something that falls between numbers 4 and 5: to do with audiences--that act of creating real work for real reasons for real people that motivates and situates powerful learning and meaning through individual and collaborative experience.

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Monica Mayall says
August 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Fantastic! Shared :-)

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August 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

I love all these reasons but I have another that I often talk about. Participating in music throughout my high school years, I learned discipline! You had to practice because you would have to perform in public with either a band or a solo piece. In college I majored in Theatre Arts and I think it was one of the best preparations for life you could have. No matter what area you participated in, you were exposed to lighting, costume design, stagecraft, directing, acting. A seemingly worthless theatre degree gave me a broad education but most importantly I learned that when the curtain went up, you had to have done the work properly and on time! It required incredible discipline! I turned my theatre degree into a career in educational radio and television productions for a university.

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August 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm

With the advent of South Africa’s new Bill of Rights in 1996, Art for Humanity invited twenty seven artists throughout the nation to celebrate the occasion with the publication of the “Images of Human Rights” print portfolio. In the foreword to the catalogue of this portfolio Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote, “I believe that through inculcating human rights at an early age, children learn to live, experience and respect their own rights and the rights of others.” (Tutu, 1996:2)

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August 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

advocate human rights and you will advocate the arts which advocates human rights......

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August 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Thanks so much for your comments Jan! I am originally from South Africa, so your comment resonates with me!

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August 23, 2013 at 7:22 am

Another Take on [Environmental] Art for the 21st Century:
David Jakupca is an American Philosopher, Ambassador, Artist, Activist and Author. He serves both as an American Cultural Ambassador and Universal Peace Ambassador in International capacities. He is extremely influential through his works, especially as a philosophical advocate and practitioner of the environmental arts methods developing the Sustainable Age revolution.

Jakupca with his wife, Renate, are the co-creators of the 'Theory of Iceality on Environmental Arts, aligning the vision with real-world social conditions and logistics. This work established and popularized inductive formulas for scientific inquiry, sometimes called the Iceality Method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for the science of aesthetics, much of which surrounds conceptions of proper Environmental Art Methodology today.

Jakupca has been recognized as the 'Spiritual Father of the Environmental Arts Movement” and in that capacity, several disciples of his work went on to spread the word on Iceality. His ideas were influential in the 1990's among scholars like Jane Alexander, Chairwoman of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), who in the ‘AMERICAN CANVAS’ Project frequently adheres to the Method of Iceality approach in its idealistic visions and entrepreneurial inquiries. Major organizations, in particular, the United Nations, featured his Theory on Iceality in many of their World Conferences. The result of this major global public promotion at the United Nations level is that the Theory of Iceality on Environmental Arts is now considered as the cornerstone of the modern sustainable global Environmental Art Movement, and this concept is now replicated by artists, architects, urban planners and sustainable organizations throughout the World, reflecting a still growing global audience. However, it must be noted that not all of Jakupca's contemporaries did accept the new theory at once.

David Jakupca is also considered to be the philosophical influence behind the dawning of the millenniums Sustainable Age. In his works, David Jakupca called for a development of avant-garde trilateral symmetry of social systems to align his vision with real-world social conditions and logistics that contend with the problems facing earth’s future. He always proposed that these environment/humanitarian/cultural systems should be done in conjunction with charitable purposes as a matter of healing this planet. Recalling Einstein’s admonition, paraphrased here, that a problem cannot be solved by the same thinking that created the problem in the first place, Jakupca, being ever mindful of the ecospheric integrity, advocated that the Environmental Arts should be practical and have as a holistic purpose the improvement of all living things.
This changed the course of art in history, from a merely contemplative state, as it was found in ancient times, to a practical, inventive modern state that will, it time, continue to lead to the new Methods of Iceality that will prevent Ecocide and make possible a Sustainable Age, a Culture of Peace for all Living Things in the following centuries.

Although much of these Methods of Iceality proposals will not be established in his lifetime, his legacy was already considered by TIME Magazine, in their 2000 Millennium Edition, as one of their Hero’s of the Planet.

For as one of his biographers, India Keyes commented, Jakupca's influence in the future world is so important that every person, plant or animal well being may be traced back to him. It is possible that someone using the Methodology of Iceality may find the cause of cancer, solve the worlds hunger problem or eliminate global warming.

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August 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

I like very much your persuasive argument. I am more hesitant when it comes to making statements of judgment about young people today. My personal experience is quite opposite to these observations and shortcomings. BUT that said, I wholeheartedly agree the arts can be life changing as a force for good.

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adriana says
August 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I agree with those six reasons . The way to improve is better when you are emotionally involved and the emotion is the first reason to get in contact with arts. Very good article !!!

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Robert Erickson says
September 05, 2013 at 11:44 am

There is another, very pragmatic reason to support not just the Arts but other non-core subjects like business, trade and technical classes, and sports. When I was teaching I heard about and saw any number of reports that showed that these classes were what kept students in school. If they feel left out of the academic classes, it was the practical and creative classes that kept them coming and eventually get their high school diploma.

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emofly17 says
September 05, 2013 at 1:57 pm

There are a lot of contradictions here. I am a music and psychology major, I focus on neuroscientific research. I cant think of one of these things that my education in neuroscience hasn't provided. (Except maybe stress relief).

We have presentations, we practice our lab techniques, we practice our writing skills, we practice interfacing with participants, we practice statistical analysis.

We get (and give) feedback on proposals and papers from (and to) our peers and professors in the field. We depend heavily on creativity from the design of our experiments to the collection and interpretation of our data. Clinician-scientists depend on creativity to find ways to turn scientific data into effective treatments.

In science, even in physics, even in mathematics, there is grey. It's not all right and wrong or black and white. In fact the deeper you go into any of the sciences, the greyer it becomes.

On the other hand, the idea that the arts don't focus on right and wrong is patently untrue. I regularly get wrong answers on my music theory homework and I sing wrong intervals in choir. I pronounce Italian words wrong when singing my solo material. My voice professor tells me the right way to breathe, the right way to stand, the right attitude to have while singing. When I studied ballet in high school and occasionally as an adult in college, I've placed my body in wrong positions and done wrong steps. In fact, if art did not focus on right and wrong, there would be no purpose in doing number (3) focusing on practice.

The truth is the arts are just as good and important as science, and they have few meaningful differences. Arts should be taught for the same reasons the sciences should be taught. Arts should be funded for the same reasons the sciences should be funded.

The problem in schools is not that the wrong things are being taught: sciences vs the arts. The problem is that they are being taught for the wrong reasons: to train employees. Artists and scientists (and supporters) need to come together, not to further divide the two disciplines, but to oust BUSINESS from the education setting. Let the corporations train their own employees.

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December 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

These are all very good observations but I would like to add one more idea that has not been shared. One of the main reasons that the Arts are best for preparing students is because there is no limit to the learning that you can do with the Arts. There is no "finish line" for the learner to cross that isn't arbitrary. You can rehearse for ever. You can take as big or as small of a part or challenge as you can handle. You can ALWAYS improve. Therefore the arts challenge you seek that ever elusive goal of "the best I can be."
That is also the magic that captivates students in the arts!

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Maxine says
July 09, 2014 at 12:22 am

Art is a natural human expression and akin to basic communication i.e. connection and meaning-making with others. With that said, the arts is very important to an individual's overall health and wellbeing, and therefore should be encouraged. I wonder, though, whether art is becoming more and more the stomping ground for those with political agendas? If this is the case then the line between art and propaganda is becoming blurred (if there was every a line?) ... anyway, you posed a very convincing argument to support the art for young people!

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