The Role That Arts Integration Plays in Visual Memory

Uncategorized Jan 13, 2021

Photo caption: Activities like drawing develop visual memory, which is critical for success in subjects like math and reading. Image by free stock photos from

Here’s a pop quiz for you. What role does art play in math and literacy success? If you answered something like, “It doesn’t,” you might want to reconsider...

As it turns out, developing art skills like drawing may do more than just give you the ability to  create pretty pictures. Recent studies suggest that artists have an advantage when it comes to visual memory.

So what does this have to do with math success? Or academic success and literacy in general?

We’re glad you asked. Read on to find out why art, the “A” that made STEM education STEAM education, is critical in the development of math and literacy skills, as well as in the development of visual memory. 

What Is STEM Education?

STEM education centers around subjects, like science (S), technology (T), Engineering (E) and Math (M). STEAM education introduces the arts into science and technology education.

Proponents of STEM education argue that teaching these subjects is necessary in order for students to compete in the workforce of the future. However, until recently, the importance of the arts has taken a backseat in the conversation.

What Is Visual Memory?

Visual memory is a person’s ability to remember what he/ she sees, including colors, patterns and images on the mind’s “movie screen.”

Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that artists have better visual memories (generally speaking) than other members of the population do. Architect Amber Sausen commented on this phenomenon in an article on the website

She said that it’s not unusual for her to look at sketches in a sketchbook that she made years ago and remember exactly what was going on. However, she additionally explained that she does not have the same experience when she looks at photos. In fact, she often looks through the images on her phone and can’t remember why she took the photo.

In other words, taking photos didn’t have the same effect on her memory that drawing something did.

While drawing in sketchbooks certainly helps an artist remember why they drew something, there are broader implications for the public at large, particularly in the educational setting.  

The Role of Visual Memory in Math, Reading & Other Subjects

According to Mind Print Learning, visual memory plays a key role in memorizing math and for being able to recognize words on sight in elementary school-aged kids (and beyond). As students get older, having a good visual memory allows them to identify shapes and patterns. 

While technology can help take some of the pressure off students, students with good visual memories tend to do better overall. Those with good visual memories are better at remembering facts and making connections between facts. 

But that’s not all. Visual memory plays a role in reading as well, given that letters are visual symbols. As we once suggested, the history of drawing is the history of writing and language. When you’re reading, you look at sequences of visual symbols to create meaning from what you’re reading. If you have trouble identifying the symbols, then reading becomes more difficult if not impossible.

Additionally, recent studies suggest that integrating the arts into subjects, like math or science, may improve student scores. One Indiana study showed that arts integration increased student scores by as much as 16%. 

Another study followed an experiment involving undergraduate students. The students were asked to study a list of vocabulary words. Students who wrote down the vocabulary words remembered about 20% of them. Students who drew pictures that represented the vocabulary words remember 45% of them. In other words, in terms of encoding information, drawing concepts was a superior method for memorization. 

While some have argued against keeping the arts in school, the reality is students who have art skills, even if they don’t use them professionally, tend to do better in school. That’s a pretty argument for keeping the “A” in STEAM education.

Video caption: An explanation of the benefits of integrating the arts in the classroom. 

How Do I Know If My Child Has Trouble With Visual Memory?

Students who have poor visual memories may:

  • Move their lips when they read. (They may be accessing their auditory memory by verbalizing the words, because their visual memories may be weak.)
  • Have trouble copying the work on the board in class.
  • May be struggling to learn how to read or do math.
  • Exhibit problems in reading comprehension.
  • Might struggle with sequential memory tasks, like spelling or copying problems from the board or their textbooks.

Ways to Improve Visual Memory

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that will allow your child to develop visual memory, including sequential memory skills. Below, you’ll find a list of them.

  • Have your child/ student draw, more specifically, have him/ her draw items from memory as often as possible.
  • Play concentration memory games together, like Match Maker
  • Put items on a table and ask your child/ student to look at them. Then have the student look away while you take an item/s away. Ask your child to look again and try to figure out which items are missing.
  • Ask your child to draw comics: These develop sequential memory skills, as well as storytelling skills and even writing skills.

Read More About the Positive Role the Arts Play in Society

Art and Technology Collide to Make Art for the Blind a Reality 

The Positive Effects Art on the Brain 

A Case for Urban Sketching: Why Draw in the Age of Photography?

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