More on Using the Arts to Improve Critical Thinking Skills


“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious—the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”   Albert Einstein

The effects of the arts are full spectrum. Arts education in whatever genre, affects who one is and who one becomes. Thinking outside the box to ask questions about why or why not are de rigueur for arts education. Seeing the expression in a beautiful painting or hearing a beautiful piece of music opens the possibilities for one’s own feelings and possibilities for self-expression.

Seeing a memorable play, musical or movie can have a lasting impact. Evoking emotions and allowing empathy results from these theatre experiences. Who has not walked out singing the beautifully haunting melodies from “Phantom of the Opera?” How better to understand the role of art in a striving, struggling artist’s life than to watch “A Chorus Line?” The song “What I did for love…” tells the story. Even if you haven’t experienced it, the sentiment is clear. Death of a Salesman depicts a mundane life and evokes emotion. We may laugh, cry or both, but film, plays, music and musicals make us feel. It is our expectation to be moved and to feel something.

The same is true for seeing an art show. Somethings are agreeable and easy to look at, other things may be upsetting. The result is we think and we experience.

After an artistic event, as an observer, not even a participant, one has a reaction. Good or bad, positive or negative, one has an opinion. I urge this perspective. Who would want to go through life liking everything and thinking all was fine without being affected, or even jolted by a work of art? Experiencing the arts teaches critical thought through evaluation and analysis. Who wants no ability to discern what you like from what you don’t, and why?

Critical thinking is the ability to take your past experiences and apply them to today or the future. What goes into this “bucket of knowledge?” How do we grow the bucket?  

The arts offer multiple opportunities for critical thinking. Teachers report in the President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities Report: Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools
Summary and Recommendations, that integrating the arts into curriculum has improved critical thinking skills. Schools in which such integrated arts programs thrive also report an increase in their standardized test scores.


COLLECT DATA  — Get the facts!
EVALUATE DATA COLLECTED — Evaluate the facts!
DRAW CONCLUSIONS — What is the significance of the facts?
TEST HYPOTHESIS (of conclusions drawn)


  • Is it important?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it applicable?
  • Is it significant?


Is it Fair? Is it logical? Is it reasonable? Is it consistent with other information collected? Did you draw a logical conclusion?  Did you use faulty logic?
The four main critical thinking tools are: Getting the Facts, Evaluating the Facts, Drawing a Conclusion using Logic, and Evaluating a Conclusion.

The arts offer a student a chance to express their creativity.  Using words, pictures or body language demonstrates real life experiences and expresses emotion. The arts offer involvement for students who may otherwise not be involved. Engage students and motivate them to learn more about the core academics such as science and math through visual arts and music.  School must be a gallery for the arts–student art on the walls, student videos, plays and musicals, orchestra and any other outlet for creative expression on display. Walk through the school and hear the sounds of creativity at work. This environment creates a positive school climate that encourages and fosters diverse thought and innovation. Not only can students use and develop their talents, but also, they can incorporate the arts into their school work. Papers can have visual components or computer graphics. The study of history and culture will come alive from the addition of understanding how art, architecture, music and fashion reflect the time and culture.    Students will learn and understand as they experience where we were to where we are.

Most young people (and older ones too) believe their voice is unique. Students crave self-expression. Integrate the arts into core academics and watch students’ ability to think and solve problems grow and fill their bucket! There is something for every type of learner and every talent.  The possibilities are infinite–you can imagine — take a walk with Harold!*

The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH): Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools
Summary and Recommendations is HERE.

*Remember the wonderful children’s book to which I refer Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Categories: 21st Century Education, arts and business, arts for arts sake, Arts Integrated Education, blended learning, creativity, critical thinking, Imagination, Innovation, integrated curriculum, project based learnning, STEAM, Uncategorized, web 2.0 for classroomTags: , ,


  1. I wonder how education ever got so compartmentalized. The skill set is exactly the same, no matter where we use critical thinking and problem solving skills. Only the tools change a bit. Arts education, recess, sports and any social situations (conflicts) provide an excellent opportunity to practice those important skills – given that the teacher leaves room for students’ thinking and does not dictate one single acceptable method.

  2. Good point, Nina! I think it is in part because of the testing, accountability and how we separate every subject rather than education being a “whole.” Everything a child does is a part of his education. I think social situations and sports are great opportunities for critical thinking, as are arts activities. I don’t mean to imply that critical thinking is something separate to study. It should become a way of life. Thanks for your thoughts.

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