Working with the visual and performing arts is one of the most creative ways to reach out and empower both young people and adults to cope with, adjust to and adapt to change, both age related as well as associated with loss or crisis. This cathartic and creative experience allows for the development and communication of images dealing with emotions and memories to surface, thus fostering emotional growth and introspection, removed from the immediacy of verbalisation.
One of the greatest strengths of the arts is the manner in which it can be adapted to be appropriate for any age or ability. It is highly individualised as it caters to each person’s artistic abilities and imagination to carry out their emotional intentions. These creations become a rich source of information on the inner lives, experiences and issues as well as a springboard for discussion for reflection. As art educators, we realise the power of visual and performing arts for both therapeutic and creative processes in developing activities that address student issues giving them a safe, socially acceptable and alternate way of expressing their needs, concerns, hopes and fantasies through a creative encounter. It takes an act of courage for students to perform or draw and paint but the dialogue begins when that deep breath before taking the plunge on the blank paper or stage is taken.
I had the opportunity of working across the school with colleagues and students during the first lock down of the pandemic with the expressive outlet that we initiated as the whole school visual arts team – The View From My Room. This art activity addressed a common experience of the prolonged physical and social restrictions for health and safety and gave them the opportunity to engage with the theme and respond meaningfully to the extremely challenging scenarios unfolding before them.
It allowed students confined to apartments and, for most part bedrooms, to open themselves up to not only new ways of looking at the world but also to find innovative and creative ways of responding to the predicament they found themselves in. They used the format of a humble open window to make their artwork which became a metaphor for their viewpoints, their keen sense of observation and gave wings to their flights of fantasy. The project involved every student in the school, from Early Years to Year 13.
It was renamed Faces in Places for Year 10 and Year 11, students who applied the principle of appropriation to create meaningful landscapes, and Inside/Outside – When Time Stood Still for IB students who minutely studied changes in light over a day in their locked-in environment.
Students were invited to reflect on the challenging times in an artistic and creative way by understanding their own social fabric, the rhythm of the endless days, and the changing light inside the home, making the familiar unfamiliar.
The concept of interdisciplinary educator teams working together is one that TBS prioritises for wellbeing and pastoral care. Art and drama teachers have access to students’ nonverbal communications and often those graphic expressions may be the first step in alerting, discovering and helping solve a problem. This creative expression supports the building of resiliency as art activities provide both a timeout for focused aesthetic experience and allowing the inner voice to find an outlet.
In the case of The View From My Room we could not have captured student voice at a more crucial juncture in their lives more authentically but the project was not limited to artwork.
It involved a discussion, reflection and sharing of the same with their peer group on MS Teams and was followed by written reflections. Students engaged with the work of other students in the TBS Virtual Art Museum responding, interpreting, questioning and reflecting on the collective experiences. The versatility of art and drama is that it can be represented spatially, unlike verbal communication which is linear. Art and drama expression occurs in space and allows for the exploration of many forms of relationships simultaneously which then once demonstrated in this neutral form, is externalised and can then be acknowledged. Therefore, art is able to provide an objectification and interpretation of these feelings by this release of emotional energy that provides opportunities for continued reflection and therapeutic progress.
The positive impact on student learning was evident in the level of engagement with all aspects of the initiative: the artwork produced, the reflections, the feedback and questions to peers about their creative vision, greater engagement with the school’s community service programmes and a growing sense of social awareness.
This further developed into other interschool initiatives that the arts team has developed such as the FOBISIA Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes and Building Bridges photography and film project. This was conceptualised around Internationalism, and used photography and mixed media to express students’ creative interpretation of crossing borders and boundaries, metaphorically and physically.
The images represented ideas of unity, understanding, empathy, peace and friendship – a symbolic bridge to cross over to a land without borders, a land that belongs to all.
Our continued engagement with creative expression is at the core of the TBS art programme and enables our students to continue to Thrive, Believe and Succeed.
- Dunn-Snow and D’Amelio ‘How Art Teachers Can Enhance Art Making as a Therapeutic Expression’ Art Education May 2000 Vol 53 No 3 Dialogue pp 46-53
- Edwards, Michael ‘Art Therapy and Art Education: Towards A Reconciliation’ Studies In Art Education 1976, Vol 17 No 2 pp 63-66. National Art Education Association
- Kahn Beverly ‘Art Therapy For Adolescents: Making it Work for School Counsellors’ Professional School Counselling April 1999 Vol 2 No 4 pp 291-298
- Karmer, Edith ‘Art Therapy and Art Education: Overlapping Functions’ Art Education April 1980 Vol 33 No 4 1980 pp 16-17