Art, Adolescents and Awareness

By Grauer, Kit | School Arts, January 1998 | Go to article overview
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Art, Adolescents and Awareness


Grauer, Kit, School Arts


The art students at South Delta Secondary School in Tsawwassen, British Columbia are well aware that art can be more than pretty pictures. The art department at SDSS is committed to developing and implementing an art program that moves beyond technique to touch on issues and themes that are important to adolescents. In the past several years the four art teachers have worked together to build an art program that reflected their emerging concern for social issues in art education. This resulted in four different approaches to bring about social awareness through art.

A New Vision for Art

After attending a series of lectures and sessions by art educator Peter London and a group of art teachers who worked with London's ideas for developing socially and personally relevant art curriculum, Peter Scurr arrived back at SDSS with a sketchbook full of notes and images and an almost evangelical zeal about implementing some of these ideas into his own teaching. "After teaching for twenty-five years, I really felt that the ideas and programs I heard about at the conference helped me clarify what art teaching is all about. I wanted to bring what I knew about helping students with image development and producing impressive products and combine that with reflection on the why of art."

A Response to Drunk Driving

When an article with the lead, "For an emergency doctor wrist-deep in a victim's mangled organs, drunk driving had an ugly and sobering reality" appeared in two major newspapers, Peter Scuff knew he had an issue that would stir the minds and emotions of his art classes. He asked the students to read the article and respond in a visual form. The only restriction was that they could not draw pictures or use cliche symbols, but instead use their knowledge of color, texture, and form to express what the words made them feel.

They combined the images with the text and graphics to prepare draft poster ideas. As Scurr says, "The intent of the project was not to produce a poster (although that is the final product) but to have the students respond to their world and how certain decisions could impact on their lives. " The finished posters with accompanying rationale and the trauma ward article were put on display at the District Resource Center. The coordinator for the Road Safety Program at the provincial insurance agency, ICBC, came to view the work and was so impressed that it is currently touring British Columbia as part of the ICBC Youth Safety Campaign.

Expressing Social Concerns

Equally impressive are the artworks produced by the students working with the other art teachers in the school. Maureen Slevin has taken the exemplar unit that was prepared for the B.C. Visual Arts Resource Package and made it into a reality. "Containers of Your Mind: Packaging your Social Consciousness" (Ministry of Education, 1995) asks students to become involved in art as social commentators. After much draft work and discussion, the students created containers to represent feelings and emotions about contemporary issues.

The containers visually represented the students personal reflections and concerns using a variety of materials such as paper, wood, clay, found objects, and techniques such as collage, assemblage, and construction.

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