Art, Learning, and the Power of Gel Pens |

Art Appreciation 101 has been a long running joke among university students. It’s the classic crutch course, the easy ‘A’. Art is the class you take to pull your grade point average out of the gutter with a minimum of effort. But according to cognition researchers at The Dana Foundation, the joke is on the college kids. Art does much more than augment a lagging GPA; it actually expands your ability to learn, across the board.How Does Happen?How does art affect learning? It follows the basic neurological principle, that what you do from day-to-day changes the way your brain functions. The act of habitually observing and participating in the visual arts improves your cognition in two ways: it naturally lengthens the attention span, and it creates openness to new ideas. This happens because art appeals to what you love– the beauty of a familiar or exotic landscape, the emotion of an implied story, empathy with a relatable character, wishful thoughts toward something pleasant, etc. Your attention is easily drawn out, either to study or to create something that is pleasing to your unique sense of history and truth. Likewise, the act of entering into someone else’s artwork, along with the artist’s unique perspectives and methods, opens new cognitive paths, to allow for understanding or sympathizing with another’s world viewCaptures Attention and Imagination.Both attention and openness have long been known to be vital factors in the ability to learn and retain new information, so it should come as no surprise that the gains in attention span and openness created in pursuit of the arts would enhance ability to perform in every other learning arena as well. Researchers at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education found this to be true, even in poor-performing schools. Their finding was that the use of art in school was so effective in improving student cognition that it significantly leveled the playing field between low-income students and kids from more affluent backgrounds. Something as simple as the gift of a set of colored gel pens had the power to engage students who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside.The Results Are StunningHow can students and educators use art to work in their favor? With the prevalence of the Internet, art can be anywhere and everywhere. Anyone can take an online course in the visual arts, or do their own self-directed study in local museums and online galleries. But it doesn’t have to stop with observation. To get the best possible benefit, art must be practiced in every form possible. Students can learn to create in the style of their favorite artists, or sprawl out on the floor at night and do their homework in gel pen colors, and develop their own forms and techniques. Teachers can swap out that drawer full of pencils for sets of awesome gel pens, and allow writing to become as much a visual art as a verbal art. When aesthetics are free to work their magic on the attention span and the openness of a class full of learners, everybody gets an easy ‘A’.