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The European View of the Arts

Here in the United States, folks love to defend their right to freedom of speech. And it’s an essential right for any successful society.

But without the means to exercise and express this free speech, how valuable is it? Societies suffer when they’re unable to fully express their national identity and make a place for themselves in the world.

Public arts funding strives to avoid this scenario. It works from the inherent understanding that the arts are necessary for a more diverse, inquisitive, culturally relevant, and intelligent society. The arts, in fact, further our freedom of expression.

And yet, this distinctly European view of the arts is lost on American society.

How the European View of the Arts Differs

You won’t encounter nearly as many arts academy high schools and middle schools in the United States as in Europe. European countries place a premium on arts education.

Recognizing the important role of creative expression and arts, Europeans do the following:

1. Embrace and Decentralize Funding

In the United States, there’s a growing distrust of providing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As such, while the government continues to fund intellectual spheres like space exploration and scientific research, the arts go largely ignored.

Americans rely heavily on “what sells” to determine what’s good in the art world. This greatly diminishes the options available to them. As artists receive less funding, only those with the resources already in place are noticed.

Meanwhile, Europe funds the arts on a more local level. This way, they are directly in touch with the lives and the work of artists in the communities they serve. This model also makes the arts much less of a target for populist political attacks.

Which brings us to the next difference…

2. Don’t Attack the Arts for Political Gain

In the late 1980s, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms was disgusted by two or three marginalized avant-garde artists. As a result, he openly disparaged all art and artists. In Europe, to do this would be taboo.

Having lived through communism and fascism, many Europeans remember all too well the negative impact of intimidating artists and denying freedom of expression. Doing so breaks down the cultural identity of an entire society.

Thus, European politicians avoid attacking the arts in an attempt to gain favor with their constituency.

3. Make the Arts Part of Their Communities

For many young people growing up in rural America, the arts are elusive and misunderstood. Seeing a play or attending the symphony requires traveling hundreds of miles.

Europeans make it a point to combine arts education with the presence of art right there in their communities. They perceive the arts as an intrinsic part of their community.

This mindset enables European children to pursue the arts into adulthood. They regard it as a realistic career option and not just a distant dream.

4. A Willingness to Incorporate New Programs Into Their Educational System

Since Europeans view the arts as an essential part of society, it figures strongly in their educational system as well. As such, they are open to trying new programs.

One program currently in use is

Through this program, students listen to and read music in real-time to play modern songs together. Sections of the songs are broken out in a way that allows students to learn how to play melodies, chords, etc.

The songs are adapted to classroom size, as well as available instruments. Plus, students are able to access the program while at home, making it easier to practice. It’s a highly successful program for engaging students to learn music. And research shows that this program also improves math and English skills.

Clearly, the European Union embraces art education in a way that America does not.

Arts Education in Europe

Each country takes its own unique approach to arts education. There does seem, however, to be universal importance placed on arts education.

In Finland, for example, the arts are integrated throughout the elementary school curriculum. They are later taught as individual subjects in middle and high school. At that point, they are given the same value as academics.

In essence, schools aim to focus on educating the whole student. And they are well funded by the government to do this. They encourage creativity and play as part of their curriculum.

Art Education in the United States

By contrast, art education in conventional school settings in the U.S. feels more like an afterthought. Especially given the overwhelming focus on STEM subjects.

Unlike in Europe, American students aren’t tested in the arts. This is unfortunate because, as the saying goes, “what gets assessed, gets addressed.” So while science, reading, and math are tested in elementary schools, subjects that aren’t tested go largely ignored. In other words, without assessment, it’s difficult to justify spending on these subjects.

Furthermore, art programs are often funded by special grants. Whenever those grants run out or aren’t renewed, the programs are on the chopping block.

On the bright side, some schools in the United States see the benefit of educating the whole student. For instance, they’re showing more openness to mindfulness programs like yoga and meditation.

Plus, technology like simplifies the process of bringing arts into the classroom. All of this could eventually lead to arts education being treated with greater value. It could be a while though.

Do You Want More of an Arts Focus for Your Child’s Education?

Until Americans adopt a more European view of the arts, highly creative and artistic students can’t thrive in the current educational system.

Fortunately, arts-integrated schools take a more ‘whole student’ approach. Their students have a solid chance for success in the arts.

If you think your child could benefit from such a school, contact us today to take a tour. You’ll be amazed by the revolutionary way we teach academics through art.  


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