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The Art of Critical Thinking

by | Dec 3, 2020

If we were to look back at our school days, we would distinctly remember reading, writing, and arithmetic: the three main pillars of educational systems around the world. These curriculums focus on encouraging students to find the “right” answer, creating generations of future workers who are good at receiving instruction and execution, excelling in working under frameworks and familiar situations. 

However, job roles are evolving with the times, and we no longer have one “right” answer. Since 2016, the World Economic Forum has continuously mentioned the growing importance of cross-functional skills, with the most popular being critical thinking. If we searched for current open job positions in any industry, we would see that many of their descriptions would include critical thinking as a necessary trait. 

In fact, in their recent report, The Future of Jobs 2025, over 65% of companies surveyed believed that critical thinking is increasing in relative importance. Another study found that over 400 senior human resources professionals ranked critical thinking as one of the most important skills for an employee.

So it’s no wonder that the World Economic Forum ranked critical thinking and analysis as the 4th top skill for 2025 or that it has continuously been in the top spot.

 

How Would We Define Critical Thinking?  

In essence, critical thinking is a thought process that evaluates possibilities and alternatives to determine the best solution for a particular problem. It involves analysis, evaluation, and inference to dissect an issue, and the conclusions that arise lead to innovations that can improve a situation.

The ability to think critically also implies other soft skills such as reflective judgment: understanding how this decision will affect those around you. This results in the development of empathetic skills as well.

 

The Thinker | 1910 Auguste Rodin | Source: The Met

Why Does It Matter?

On a personal level, with the rise of social media and “fake news,” the uses for critical thinking are continuing to grow. We must learn to separate fact from fiction in many aspects of our lives while also measuring the impact our own social media presence may have. 

Business takes this one step further. Businesspeople often discern information from data and know how to utilize the research in the best way possible. Their ability to question the data, and look at it from different angles, is crucial for getting the, hopefully, right results. They need to know how to best respond to certain environments and how to best acquire and utilize resources. 

Critical thinking is also important in being innovative – questioning existing norms and ways of doing and being, so we can offer alternatives. By nature, innovation is about doing something new, and therefore, it requires a change of existing situations. 

 

How Do We Foster Critical Thinking?

The beauty of the critical thinking process is that it can be applied to almost any context, but we can see these principles highlighted in two spheres: art and entrepreneurship. Both areas require challenging an existing norm, analyzing it and coming up with creative solutions that are not guaranteed to work.

While the business environment, focused on execution and efficiency, is limited in opportunities to develop these skills, many studies published over the years have highlighted the relationship between critical thinking and liberal arts education, especially programs with a strong fine arts element. Nancy Lampert, an art educator, found that art students were taught to think in open-ended contexts as works of art can pose problems that can be solved in various ways or are open to various interpretations

For example, interpreting art involves reflecting on various interpretations of a topic and considering various peers’ perspectives. Meanwhile, producing art pushes students to convey meaning through visual imagery while solving whatever problems may arise with their chosen medium. 

Art students themselves echo the importance of critical thinking in their curriculums. Over 83% of graduates from a fine arts program believe that their programs taught them analytical and critical reasoning that can be applied to a larger context beyond the art world.

 

A Woman Seated Beside A Vase of Flowers | 1865 Edgar Degas | Source: Met

Most Employees Are Lacking

 On the other hand, business students lacked these lessons. This deficiency is reflected in the workplace, with 60% of managers saying they believe new graduates lack critical thinking skills. However, 59.1% of managers believe that it is easier to train recent graduates and younger professionals.

So if they are easier to train, why don’t they have this skillset down yet? 

We can attribute this to the difference in how art courses tend to be taught as opposed to many business courses. Instead of lecturing and robotic memorization, art courses tend to emphasize classroom discussion, independent questioning, problem-solving, and observational analysis. 

Studies have shown that implementing art-based exercises with collaboration and peer discussion helped increase students’ critical thinking abilities. Increased open discussion also facilitated this quality by creating a pool of varying opinions that students needed to navigate – learning to compromise, negotiate, and intertwine ideas to create the best possible solution. 

You don’t have to leave the business environment to adopt the artistic mindset artists are trained for. If we were to implement these ways of thinking into our daily lives, we would be able to improve our critical thinking capabilities no matter what sector we are involved in. Business organizations can work with the arts to add these skills development programs to our day-to-day. It might feel strange, and maybe unrelated, but to succeed in the changing environment, business needs to learn from whatever disciplines are out there.

 

Practice Exercise

How can art can develop your critical thinking skills, you might wonder? Well, let’s try this exercise: 

Go to the online collections of The British Museum or the Met. Pick an image and ask yourself: what is going on in this image? What do I understand from it?

Then ask your partner, friend, or colleague to do the same with the same image. Compare your perceptions, and you might be surprised to learn how your answers differ. Use this moment to start a discussion with each other about how you got to your results-open yourself up to a new perspective. 

 

And if you’re still curious about different tools you can implement to develop critical thinking, check out our trainings at The Artian!

 

–Marisa Cedeno

 

 

 

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