SchoolArts Magazine

FEB 2019

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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Page 12 of 54

8 FEBRUARY 2019 SchoolArts When we take the time to investigate an artwork's ideas and themes, we may discover how others feel, think, and live. —Marilyn Stewart, Professor Emerita of art education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, author of Explorations in Art, Rethinking Curriculum in Art, and Thinking Through Aesthetics, and editor of the Art Education in Practice series, all published by Davis Publications. Co-Editor's Letter G eorge," I said to my eight-year-old grandson while we discussed an earlier altercation with his sister, "we always try to think of how others are feeling. It's called empathy." George replied, "Grandma, I know about empathy; it's one of my school's core values and we're studying it now." S ince Socrates long ago asked if virtue could be taught, philosophers, psychologists, and educators have wondered if and how we can teach students to act virtuously. In most conversations about these questions, empathy—the capac- ity to feel as another feels, to walk in someone else's shoes, to see the world from another's perspective—is integral. In his book, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice, psychologist Martin L. Hoffman describes empathy as "the spark of human concern for oth- ers, the glue that makes social life possible." In teaching art, we have unique opportunities to encourage empathy, especially when we engage students with artworks that have meaningful connections to their lives. When we help students consider feelings, ideas, and themes common to human experience and encourage per- sonal connections with what they or others have created, students are more likely to develop empathy. It takes time to create an environment where identifi- cation with others can take place, to help students make p ersonal connections with artworks made by others, and for students to explore ideas, materials, and processes for meaningful personal expression. All this takes time, but it is time well spent developing an environment of under - standing and caring for others. We can encourage conversations in which students seri- ously consider the perspectives of their classmates. Years a go, I invited art critic Klaus Kertess to speak with my stu- dents. When they asked him about his role, he answered, "I p rovide a doorknob. You must open the door." This meta- phor moves conversations about an artwork's meaning to a n ew place—a place where we still seek to offer plausible interpretations, but in doing so, we are thinking of how oth- ers might consider—or enter—the work. This shift is subtle b ut important because the emphasis is on the other. The question, "How can I provide others with a way of entering this artwork?" assumes responsibility toward one's class - mates and contributes to a caring classroom environment. When students are responsible for providing an entry to a fellow classmate's artwork, the potential for empathy is even more salient. I often ask students to pair off and share their completed studio work. They interview each other about their inspiration and process and discuss ideas suggested. Each student is then asked to craft a statement about the other's work, providing viewers with a way to "enter" it. Because their written statements will be made public, students take their conversations seriously. The process takes time, but again, because we are providing opportunities for students to develop empathy and increase the likelihood of having a caring and compassionate class- room environment, it is time exceptionally well spent.

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