Advocates argue art is an essential language

What does it take to convince skeptics that the arts are essential to our culture and to education, and therefore deserve our funding?

Mary Kay and Bob Zabel think arts advocates need a new, and better argument. On they write the new argument should run along the lines of "Art is essential because art is language."

Many individuals with disabilities face challenges in the area of communication; they may have difficulty producing speech; they may rely on alternative communication strategies that are not readily accessible to others; they may find typical communication too emotionally charged; they may have emotional or behavioral blocks to using speech at all. For these individuals, some sort of alternate, but fairly universal, language is necessary, and this is where the arts can play an important role.

As educators in the area of emotional/behavioral disability, we have seen many examples of the power of story telling, writing, theatre, music, and visual arts to assist students and adults to more completely understand and express their needs. We have observed with disbelief as emotionally inaccessible, street smart kids hold profound conversations about feelings and behavior with a puppet; have heard kids quote song lyrics as a way to describe their emotions; have seen not only feelings, but actual information come out of a person's drawing or painting as they create with different art media.

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Kay and Zabel cite numerous instances in which an arts program provided children with new tools for living with mental illness, managing anger, and sharing their stories.

You can read the full essay here.


Dan Keplinger is the star of the documentary "King Gimp." Born with cerebral palsy Keplinger has severe speech problems, but uses his painting to communicate his ideas.