Arts education is ESSENTIAL, not a nice extra

Amy Cuddy and CBS This Morning are in love with “power poses.” The “news” story they did recently was all about how standing or sitting a certain way, even if no one is looking at you, can help you feel more confident and powerful, and when done in front of other people, allow them to see you as such. Certainly body language is very important in presentation, for both the presenter and those you want to listen, but I was cringing over some of the recommendations, like for the pose where you sit in your chair and put your feet up on your desk as you talk to others – which, as anyone who works internationally knows, is profoundly disrespectful to people in a room with you. And the reporter’s fawning over a photo of Cuddy’s husband, in a pose they loved but that, to me, was demanding and demeaning to the viewer in a way that made me want to leave the room and get as far away from him as possible.

But what really ticked me off was this exchange:

“We don’t learn this stuff in school,” the interviewer, Rita Braver, said.

“No, we don’t teach it,” replied Cuddy.

Um… I learned it in school. I learned it in choir. You know, one of those arts classes that a lot of people that want to “revolutionize” and “disrupt” schools think are unnecessary in schools and should be replaced with more practical classes? If you were in any of the choirs in the Henderson County, Kentucky school system, you learned very quickly how to sit and how to stand, even when you weren’t singing. Certain postures were required, and other postures absolutely banned in the classroom. And those posture requirements have stayed with me to this day, decades later; I don’t sing in a choir anymore, but I know how to sit or stand in a meeting to indicate I am listening, that I hear you, and how to sit or stand so that you will feel compelled to listen to me. Performing in school plays also helped me with posture, with saying something by the way I was standing or sitting: fear, disinterest, confidence, surprise, and on and on.

But posture and presentation skills aren’t the only things that choir and drama activities in school gave me and that continue to serve me: I also know how to work in a team and meet a deadline, and how to dream, how to imagine, how to think creatively. There is a creative process, one that gets kick-started and flourishes when you go to art galleries, watch movies, read novels, and if possible, participate in making art yourself – singing, dancing, drawing, performing. You stare at clouds or a field or trees instead of a lit screen, and you let your mind wander, so that you can actually get ideas, so that you can formulate your own ideas. A lot of times ideas will turn up when you’re doing something else. Creativity is vital for most successful entrepreneurs or people brought in to improve a project, a program or an entire business. You don’t just disrupt a project or program or entire organization just because you can – you look for new ways of doing things that are needed by those served, an innovation that increases efficiency, that better addresses needs and challenges, and that keeps staff inspired – not just a change for change’s sake – and those disruptions come from inspiration, from creativity.

Neil de Grass Tyson, David Byrne, talked recently in an interview on Star Talk about the VITAL importance of arts education to innovators in any field – business, engineering, scientific research, whatever. I cried over this 3:44 minute part of the show, where an astrophysicist talks about why arts is VITAL to creativity. I could not agree more.

Instead of taking arts-related classes and learning to imagine, some Silicon Valley tech workers are taking LSD to be more creative. That’s so sad. Start a company choir. Dance. Try out for community theater. Have a reading of a Shakespeare play at your house. And sit up straight!

Also see:

That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket

Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees

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