Art- A strategy for poverty eradication

by Shastri Maharaj

April 27, 2005  

There exists within any art programme a potential that can be utilized to assist in poverty eradication.

It is based upon the premise that attitudes, values and skills can contribute to positive self-esteem and empowerment. This is possible by time spent in the creation of art objects on a regular basis within a formal and non-formal setting.

Cognitive structures, such as problem-solving, decision-making, critical thinking along with artistic abilities - sensibilities and sensitivities, become on-going learning skills. Creativity, imagination and originality more so, become necessary ingredients in the process-idea, technique, and materials, of making the art product. Innovation, research and risk taking automatically become a "built in" mechanism that triggers the goal for excellence in the realization of the art product. It is these inherent qualities which contribute to positive character development and personality.

It must be noted that the process of art making must never be perceived as only a psychomotor act. It is not and cannot be aligned to the memory and recall syndrome, which clearly describes a major part of knowledge in the other academic subject areas. If such were the case it could be placed in the category of basketry as done by visually impaired persons.

Intrinsically it is about concept and the visual communication of ideas. It is extremely cognitive and easily lends itself to being interactive in its execution, display, dialogue and sale.

Individuals therefore, who have been exposed to art programmes, especially starting in Early Childhood education going up into the secondary school system, automatically become equipped to "grapple" with issues relating to pent-up energies and feelings, role playing, peer group pressure, stress and the constructive use of spare time. These observations have been repeatedly articulated by respected art educators such as Viktor Lowenfeld and EW Eisner. In essence, individuals' developing powers of rationalization and discrimination allow them to feel empowered, gratified and most of all, self-confident. It is more than sufficient to create something that is tangible: an accomplishment!

These attributes soon become life-long skills, which become applicable and useful in the pursuit of non-art activities. Compartmentalization of art skills relating to attitude, values and cognition now dissolve into broad structures that define learning.

In a nutshell, art experiences provide the individual with survival skills. The individual is now in a better position to be resourceful and innovative in dealing with socio-economic, psychological, intellectual and environmental pursuits with respect to self, society and family. Being equipped with the knowledge of art experiences allows the individual to approach daily activities in his life with enhanced focus and optimism.

The cognitive and the affective structures that are stimulated during art-making now become extremely active and instrumental in other facets of the individual's existence. Such cognitions, by and large become indelible tools an individual can rely upon for the duration of his life.

Art programmes therefore in schools ought to be properly structured in terms of resource systems. These systems include material resources, infrastructure, student- teacher ratio, trained personnel, an organic curriculum, informed administrators, clear, definite guidelines on policy making and implementation of art programmes and an overall general attitude from top to bottom that art can and will make a difference in holistic development of our nation's children. It is evident that the prestigious academic subjects have not, so far, been successful in assisting in the eradication of poverty. Added to that is the fact that high failures at CXC along with increasing truancy become clear signals of an unsympathetic education system.

Communities of youths, uneducated and unemployed quickly recognize the insensitivity of the social and financial support systems. Our youths, cognizant of the futility of tested and tried support programmes are left to their own devices. Their unheralded cries for respectability and self-respect soon find solace in gangs and solidarity within the poor and homeless. Poverty and its attendant evils are always quick to rear their ugly head. On the other hand, school drop-outs who would have been exposed to a sensitive and vibrant art programme during their limited school tenure would now be able to literally draw upon their art experiences in assisting to ensure that they remain outside the circle of poverty.

Art education must be aggressively utilized within the formative years of schooling and accessible to all students up to the advanced level for examination or non-examination purposes as an enhancement subject to assist in recreational activity, artistic expression and the release of pent-up energies and emotions.

Its importance to the individual and its contribution to the stability and growth of the economy will eventually be recognized in the subject's ability to generate vocations in the production, marketing, sensitization, training and sale of art products.