Exposure to Artwork Shown to Have Positive Effects on Youth

Elementary Student at Art GalleryIf you’ve ever wandered the halls and rooms of an art gallery or museum, you may have noticed a range of thoughts and emotions stirring within. Maybe you felt moved to sadness, happiness, or wonderment while viewing a particular piece. You may have left the exhibit feeling inspired or intrigued to learn more about an artist or era.

Whatever the individual responses experienced, it is widely accepted that artwork has the potential to influence our emotional state as well as our views and perceptions of the world around us. For those fortunate enough to have visited galleries and museums at a young age, whether on school field trips or in the company of a parent or guardian, the early exposure to paintings, sculptures, and other forms of artwork may have been more influential than realized.

From March 2012 through December 2012, researchers examined the effects of art exposure in a large-scale study of nearly 11,000 students who visited the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, during that time. When the museum’s school tour program was announced, demand for participation was so high that the 123 schools that participated in the field trips and study were selected at random to allow for students from a range of social and economic backgrounds to be included.

According to Anne Kraybill, school and community programs coordinator at Crystal Bridges and the person responsible for spearheading the study, students were led through a tour of four to five pieces of art, which were accompanied by “guiding questions” and “age-appropriate activities.” Six different tours were led for specific grade ranges, and each tour had four stops during a 60-minute period.

A few weeks after their one-hour museum tour, students in the “treatment group” were asked to write an essay based on one of the paintings they viewed at the museum that they had never seen before. The essays were then blindly evaluated and scored using a seven-item rubric for assessing critical thinking developed by researchers at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

The researchers’ findings revealed that after touring the museum, the students retained much of the information they learned, even weeks later—not because it was forced or for a test, but because they found the material interesting (Kraybill, 2013). Their essays also reflected increased historical empathy, tolerance, and critical thinking skills. These effects were especially pronounced in students who were “disadvantaged” with regard to economic means—primarily because outside of this school trip, the opportunities for these “rural and high-poverty” students to view art were limited or nonexistent (Greene, Kisida, and Bowen, 2014; Kraybill, 2013).

“The School Visit program uses a methodology that is student-driven,” Kraybill said in an interview with GoodTherapy.org. “Students exchange their ideas and opinions, and this requires a level of trust. Differing opinions are encouraged, but only if presented respectfully and with sensitivity. In addition, students are exposed to a wide range of perspectives presented by artists throughout time. This enables them to better empathize with people and times that are unlike their own. Looking at and interpreting art requires critical thinking. Students have to first observe, then make hypotheses and justify those with observational data. Then they have to infer about what might be happening in the artwork.”

The purpose of the study was largely to establish evidence that field trips and extracurricular excursions to art museums are a valuable experience for youth. Over the course of her years working in the museum world, Kraybill witnessed a decline in school tours (2013). To combat this trend and encourage ongoing student interaction with artwork, Crystal Bridges hosts daily school tours throughout the year with the help of funding from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation.

“It has been an awesome and humbling experience to have over 30,000 students visit the museum through this program,” Kraybill said. “Every tour that is given is different because the students bring their own perspective to interpreting a work of art. We learn as much from them [as they learn from us] because each observation and interpretation is unique.”


  1. Greene, J. P., Kisida, B., and Bowen, D. H. (2014, Winter). The educational value of field trips. EducationNext, vol. 14, no. 1. Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/the-educational-value-of-field-trips/
  2. Kraybill, A. (2013, September 16). What’s the value of an art museum field trip? Art Museum Teaching. Retrieved from http://artmuseumteaching.com/2013/09/16/whats-the-value-of-an-art-museum-field-trip/

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  • Janie


    December 27th, 2013 at 5:52 AM

    There are schools that totally ignore students’ exposure to the arts because they feel that they will not appreciate it or come away with anything from it in the way that adults would. Well, I think that this clearly shows that they are wrong. There is so much that students from all walks of life can take away from this kind of early exposure to art, it can cause a love of art to flourish and thrive in a child who may not have known before that that love was there, and what a wonderful thing to spark in a child.

  • nel


    December 28th, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    most kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have never had this kind of exposure to art or never had the experience of having this in their lives, so tho know that there are programs out there giving them this kind of opportunity is so uplifting to me. i never had this growing up but always wished this i had as i knew as i got older that it could have made a huge impact on the opportunities that i could have had. i was determined that when i had my own kids that i would expose them to as many opportunities like this as i could as i knew that it would broaden their horizons in a way that i was never given. thankfully we live in a city where the opportunities are limitless and they have had so many chances to learn and grow through the arts and through them so have i. our eyes hav been opened in a way that i never saw as a child but have been given a second chance as as an adult. i know now that it’s never too late to learn and to grow.

  • David m

    David m

    December 29th, 2013 at 1:57 AM

    These are the kinds of programs that we need more of, because it really is too bad that not every school that wanted to be a part of this was able to.
    Hopefully now that we see that the interest is there and that the outcome is so great there will be more of an effort to spearhed more programs like this around the country so that all schools can have the opportunity to give this type of experience to their students.
    Children this age are like sponges, and even when you don’t think that they are paying attention, they are obviously definitely retaining information. This is important for their overall education, and we owe this to them to make them better educated and well rounded students.

  • rob


    December 30th, 2013 at 4:18 AM

    Well, now my kids have no excuse when I say let’s go to the art museum!

  • Matthew


    December 31st, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    This is a great thing, especially if the school then has teachers and other supplemental programs which will continue to add to what the students have learned. I hope that this would not be a one shot deal, that you spark that interest and then there is never anything else provided to them to encourage them to continue to learn more and do more with that curiosity. For some kids this might be the only real live exposure and interaction that they receive, but you could provide them with so many other resources that would help them continue their interest so that when the time comes and they have another chance to pursue it they will jump at it.

  • margette


    January 4th, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    They are like little sponges, able to absorb anything that we give them the opportunity to experience. Oh, to be a child again with chances such as this!

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