In response to Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland's study regarding the role of the arts in school curriculum, I highly agree with their reasoning in support of the findings in their research. Art should be seen as a subject strong enough to stand on its own. Our society often rationalizes the subject of art as a worthy subject to study in school (excluding art schools, of course) only because it supports the other "more essential" subjects such as math and science (sometimes, literature).
Being a teaching artist at one time and going into public schools, my lesson plan for each session often had to list the multi-disciplinary aspects of each art lesson, which subjects my lesson was reinforcing, and more specifically, which specific skills such as reasoning, spatial intelligence, etc. I was teaching. I was there to teach art, not math through art, yet sometimes we had to tweak our lessons to help students prepare for their standardized tests. I found myself teaching the math in patterns instead of teaching the kids how to appreciate and see the pattern's aesthetic value through repetition and colors of say, Islamic Art.
I don't deny that learning how most compositions in paintings that we find pleasing almost always follow the golden section, is very fascinating and helpful -- especially when it comes to creating your own composition -- this fact should be seen as how math supports the art, the visual, instead of the other way around. Studying abroad in Europe, I also discovered that this unique perspective was very American. I found that my visual intelligence and creativity skills were severely impaired compared to those who were just out of high school (some were still in high school). I didn't think that this was due to talent/"artist genes," but more to the European outlook on art as a subject. Therefore, I did a lot of "catching up" and tried to make up for the lack of art I had in high school. One thing's for sure: they took art and art making seriously and it was a subject that was seen as equal as calculus or chemistry, not an extra class convenient to skip when you needed to go to the dentist and have your wires tightened.
Lastly, I believe this is the reason many people look at modern/contemporary art with a blank stare. (There are other reasons, of course, which is another topic and I won't get into now). High schools and universities do not teach us about visual intelligence. Most of us are not taught how to look at a painting and see. If the argument is, how will this help me in my life, the same can be said of calculus. Not everyone uses calculus in their career of choice, but we still have to learn it. Why should art be different? GEs often include such subjects like intro to Classics, Philosophy of Ethics & Morality, basic intro to chemistry, biology, physics, etc....., perhaps even art appreciation, but we do not have classes in visual intelligence. At least with writing -- I believe all schools have GE courses in expository writing, but many, many college graduates finish school without really learning the skill of basic essay writing despite the requirement. It's a deficiency in the system, more than with the individual. Many people enter the modern art/contemporary section on the MET or go into the MOMA and say, "I don't get it," or "I can do that," more often than they try to stand there in silence and think visually about, or really try to see what's in front of them -- especially when it comes to Rothko's color fields, abstract art, in general, and many contemporary pieces.
The same is true with some art buyers, they want to be told what to buy and instead of actually looking at the paintings, sculptures, photography, etc. themselves to see what they really like looking at and seeing on a daily basis. I mean, it's going to be a presence/part of a room in their apartment/house, so why not pick something you like instead of what something someone says you should like? But that's for another blog entry, for another time.