Connected to everything else: The Arts, neuroscience and the gifted

By Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department

We are all artists and we are artists from birth. From the days our ancestors painted caves at Lascaux and graffitied the walls of ancient Rome to our current ventures in Modge Podging and Pinterest, the arts are innate.

Yet, our artistic sensibilities are somehow dulled when we are told that our skies cannot be yellow and our cats look more like cows. Following a brilliant start, we have been compelled to color inside the lines only and to sing in key or just fake it. As Pablo Picasso explained, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once (s)/he grows up."

At a variety of points in history, the visual and performing arts have not only been valued in and of themselves but understood to be a wonderful way in which to teach within and across disciplines in a reciprocal manner. The visual, performing, digital and industrial arts provide opportunities for diverse ways of knowing and understanding. They bring to the gifted and talented de facto depth and complexity and empower English Learners in finding occasion to flourish in otherwise anxiety-producing environments.

In part due to the rise of the Factory Model of Schooling and the rise of capitalism in the 19th century, the arts fell from the public domain and became the purview of collectors, becoming commodities and museum pieces for those afforded access.

In far too many schools, arts experiences have been ‘one-shot’ offerings — despite our understanding of the arts as developmental over time — or relegated to rewards or holiday activities (such as the creation of cotton-ball Easter bunnies or palm-drawn turkeys for Thanksgiving). Draconian retrenchment measures have also weighed heavily on the availability of meaningful immersion in the arts, although the advent of the Common Core offers some modicum of promise for the future.

We know that the arts work for adults as well. For example, research undertaken with medical residents immersed in the visual and performing arts as part of the core medical curriculum indicate improved diagnostic abilities and understanding of non-verbal cues. ‘Bedside manner’ was also shown to have improved (empathy, self-regulation of emotions, stress management, among others).

As Goertz (2002) offers:

"Education in art is an invitation to use the reasoning skills of an artist. The artist visualizes and sets goals to find and define the problem, chooses techniques to collect data, and then evaluates and revises the problem solution with imagination in order to create....The artist, in his or her creative process, requires a high-order thought process."

Leonardo daVinci put it more succinctly perhaps in stating ‘Everything is connected to everything else.’

Please stay tuned to this site for series offered by the Education Department that examines the cognitive and socio-affective impacts of the arts on pupils and postsecondary students with an eye toward the gifted and talented. It also explores reciprocal impacts on disciplines across the curriculum and on ‘sound habits of mind’ – those metacognitive skill sets that benefit learners across sectors of education.

For any questions about this article or our upcoming series on the arts in education, please contact Morgan Appel directly at

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.