THE BLOG

Our Schools Must Unlock The True Power Of Art

08/09/2017 11:59 BST | Updated 08/09/2017 12:00 BST

I was away with family in vibrant, frenetic Hong Kong and needed to relax. Inspired by some calligraphy works I'd seen at a local exhibition, I popped out to buy some liquid ink, a brush and paper.

I began some brush strokes but couldn't seem to make the right impression. My sister, an artist, told me I was trying too hard. She urged me to close my eyes and, in doing so, I fell into a slight trance. When I opened them again, I was amazed by what I'd produced. A colourful abstract piece that, a couple of years later, still sits alongside the professional works I have at home. I'm no artist myself - far from it. But the experience reminded me of the genuine therapeutic quality of art.

It seems I'm not alone. In a recent nationwide survey commissioned by Cass Art, the art materials business I founded in 1984 with the slogan 'Let's Fill This Town With Artists', more than half of respondents said they use creativity to combat stress. Over a quarter said art represents a welcome form of escapism and aids their self-expression.

And last month a report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing found that prescribing arts activities to patients could not only improve their health but also lead to a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions.

'The arts can help people take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing in ways that will be crucial to the health of the nation,' said one of the co-chairs of the report, former arts minister Lord Howarth.

Today our definition of art extends way beyond what some consider the traditional forms. In addition to colouring and drawing, the survey found that the country's most popular creative activities include knitting, cooking, nail art, gardening, customising clothing and creating apps.

I come from a family that has supported the arts for more than 100 years. In 1902, my great great uncle Paul Cassirer hosted Van Gogh's first shows in Berlin and was instrumental in promoting the Impressionists' work across Europe.

Were he alive today, would he have championed the humble app creator? We'll never know. But all artistic activities require us to use cognitive skills to produce something that didn't exist before we started. They give us a break from our daily lives and often provide us with a tremendous sense of achievement when we've finished.

Humans have been communicating non-verbally for thousands of years - hunter-gatherers proudly etched the wild beasts they'd snared on cave walls. As a species, it seems we're hooked on using our hands to make things.

For many of us that creative seed is planted young. A third of those surveyed discovered their creativity as a child at school. But it needs careful nurturing. 'My school art teacher encouraged me at the age of 14 to pursue my interest in art and design,' says Sir John Sorrell, former chair of the Creative Industries Federation and founder of the Sorrell Foundation. 'Educators play a vital role in inspiring young people, opening their minds, encouraging them to question and explore.'

But does our current education system place enough value on our creative health? I'm not convinced. Children are tested and retested throughout their young lives. All too often school is a high-pressured environment. And yet art, despite its stress-busting qualities, is regarded as a minor subject and one that pupils can discard far too easily.

Nearly two thirds of those surveyed believe art should be compulsory in schools until the age of 16. I completely agree. Art encourages individuality and inspires children to make a mark in their own unique fashion. It encompasses a broad and evolving number of disciplines. Each instils patience, diligence, dexterity and imagination in students - invaluable skills not just for school or work but for life itself.

Britain relies on its creative industries, both culturally and economically. But creativity is stifled in a vacuum. Art, in its many forms, must be allowed to flourish in schools - and we will all share the benefits.

For more information go to cassart.co.uk/artedmatters