In education, music and visual arts have been linked in the category of “programs” or “electives” for many years, and the music and arts departments of contemporary public schools will occasionally collaborate for student performance based holiday shows, but how else are they connected? Does the act of listening to music in the arts classroom affect the mood of the room, the quality of the work, the behavior of the students?
As a public school Art teacher, I continuously strive to achieve the most productive, most comfortable classroom for my students. Their artistic and educational gains in my classroom are my main priority. I focus on topics which will help to elucidate questions about perceived atmosphere in the arts classroom. Certainly there is an existing ideological framework for what art classrooms should look like in contemporary public schools. Educators are expected to display art, both from the masters as well as current student artwork, and relevant imagery, vocabulary, rubrics, and decorative elements. But what does a productive arts classroom sound like? The energy of voices, laughter, the sound of water running, paint brushes tapping canvas, the shuffle of student feet to and from the pencil sharpener, but what about music? When music is integrated into the educational setting, does it affect the delicate dichotomy of the arts classroom and student work produced therein?
The use of music is so prevalent in our culture that it can almost go undetected by the individual. Calming music is used in the doctor’s waiting room, the elevator, on hold with the IRS, or any settings that often cause high anxiety. Energetic music used in the retail stores is designed to boost mood and confidence among the shoppers, encouraging them to purchase more goods. Music is clearly and integral aspect of modern culture, and one could predict that the use of music in the classroom could affect outcomes of student work or behavior, but in what capacity, and to what degree?
I completed several interviews of secondary art education teachers, observed high school art classrooms using music during the creative time, and reviewed literature currently available on the effects of music on mood. These allude to a strong positive connection between the creative process of art making and the inspirational and calming effect of listening to music. Scientific evidence such as those experiments conducted using neuroimaging of the brain or participant polls suggest that music can directly effect mood and trigger positive emotions, calming or relaxing effects, or other perceived benefits that can directly translate to an art classroom, or any classroom that allows for independent work. These studies support an even greater benefit in an urban setting where additional elements such as noise, traffic, poverty and crime may cause students to carry additional stressors into the classroom setting. This research supports theories that listening to music during the creative time of an art class may allow for a more productive and successful lesson, and if the act of listening to music proves to ameliorate anxiety, it may also lessen student inhibitions around art making and diminish barriers between a vulnerable student and their full potential in the art classroom.
As an art instructor and a public school teacher struggling to close achievement gaps between students, I will continue to investigate and utilize music to aide in student production of art. Classical, jazz, contemporary and world music may all be enormous assets in the pursuit of creating the most dynamic and successful arts classroom.