Written By Sherwood Kohn

Art. What is it good for? Apparently, because the recent recession has resulted in budget cuts for many schools – in the view of some administrators: not much.

In recent days, public school systems throughout the nation have felt the pressure of a tightened economy. Many of them have concentrated their funds on reading, writing and arithmetic at the expense of arts programs.

Fortunately, Carroll County’s school administrators are not of that mind. They still believe that a well-rounded education must include music, dance, theater and the graphic arts.

Why? It turns out that “well-rounded” implies stimulating students to think: that is, to be creative, which means that students who study art in school discover at some point in their lives how to clarify and communicate experience – the very definition of art.

Of course, the basic curricula – science, mathematics and language skills – are vital, but without art, they are simply that: skills. It is creativity that helps us apply those mechanisms; that results in the advancement of civilization. It has always been thus. For instance, in the third century B.C., Archimedes applied mathematics to the measurement of volume when he climbed into his bathwater and observed that the water level rose.

According to reports in The Boston Globe and the Yale News, Harvard and Yale medical students take innovative art courses aimed at improving their observation and diagnostic skills.

So art has its practical functions. But beyond that, it is the measure of a society. Great societies produce great art. Witness classical Greece, Rome, 19th-century Europe and the contemporary United States. Where art is considered frivolous or worse – a danger to the state – humanity withers, freedom dies and mankind descends to the level of automatons. That is why dictators strive to control or eliminate artists.

The definition of creativity, according to Dictionary.com, is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”

To put it figuratively, art is the canary in the coal mine. When it stops singing, humanity is threatened. Creativity, which accompanies freedom, is the fruit of good judgement.