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How arts fuel creativity in Middle School

By Jessica Thompson, Newswire

Cognitive advantages from having an art education include higher academic achievement, creativity, imagination, self-expression, and stimulation of the mind, according to Steven A. Melnick et al. in their journal article Cognition and Student Learning through the Arts.

Developing these aspects in students is interwoven in each of the International School of Beijing’s (ISB) programs – including visual arts. 

ISB has philosophy statements for each of its main programs. The statement for the visual arts program reads, “When students learn about and explore art-making practices, using both traditional and contemporary tools, they develop the abilities necessary for self-expression and determination in the technology-driven 21st century culture. They discover the joy and pride of being authentically creative and are initiated into a variety of ways of perceiving and contemplating the world around them.”


Steve Northcott has worked in the Visual Arts Department at ISB for seven years and has seen how great an impact the program has on students.

“I continue to be amazed at what our students create,” said Mr. Northcott, noting particularly how they are inspired by visiting artists-in-residence, such as storyboard animator Marty Cooper

The work done in the classroom is something students see as allowing them to use their intelligence in unique ways. “Visual arts challenges our creativity, allowing us to come up with new ideas,” said one of Mr. Northcott’s students.


Exploration over perfection

Adopting the National Core Arts Standards, ISB’s Middle School visual arts program allows students to choose between a wide range of art and design offerings. 

There are also studio classes that give students the opportunity to develop their foundational skills while also maintaining the freedom to create individual pieces that demonstrate artistic thinking and processes. 

The 75-minute art classes run for a semester and students have them every other day, giving them the time they need to create something beautiful. 

“We offer the flexibility for student choice and student direction in addition to traditional project work,” Mr. Northcott said. “Plus, the additional art enrichment classes provide great opportunities for the kids to enhance their skills.”


The enrichment classes give students the opportunity to take specialized art classes in ceramics, drawing, painting, and graffiti.

But what Mr. Northcott stresses as the goal of the program is for students to forget the idea of perfection. 

“When I am leading Middle School students, I stress the importance of exploration, making mistakes and trying to come up with unique visual solutions to their creative problems,” he explained. “The goal is to become comfortable taking risks and exploration.”

With the idea of perfection dismissed, students are able to explore their creativity.

In the words of one of Mr. Northott’s students, “Visual Arts gives me an opportunity to demonstrate visually my hobbies in different ways.”

Find out more about the ISB Visual Arts program. 

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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