Speaking Through Art

Speaking Through Art

by Barbara K. Stump, MA

For over 30 years, I always found a space in my classroom to display one particular poster. It was a black and white photograph of a child drawing, and the caption read, “Art is the First Language.” I loved that poster, the simplicity and the earnest look on the child’s face drawing big curvy lines. This poster never felt outdated and was mesmerizing. I feel the point of this poster was to say, we can all engage in art in one way or another as a viewer, a creator, or both! So, why should we? What are the benefits of art?

The last two years have been unusual for all of us.  Teaching through the pandemic helped me realize how important my role as a teacher was for my students.   Art was challenging to teach online.  However, I was impressed with the way my students “showed up” for class. In order to meet the unique needs of teaching art virtually, my colleagues and I worked diligently to assemble art kits for students to use at home for painting, drawing, jewelry, and even ceramics.

Entering  my students’ homes, via google meet sessions, was enlightening.  Sometimes students would be babysitting their younger siblings, and they would ask if their siblings could also participate in the lesson.  Other times, I would see parents “peek” in to see what was going on virtually and ask questions about materials.  Often at the end of each hour, I would have one or two students remaining online wanting to share their work with me, or even just to talk to me.

When we returned to in person classes, the students were different.  My classes were quieter, and learning to be in person again was an adjustment.  Something else had changed, students became more personal in their artwork.  I always had a few students who shared things they observed, or worried about, but this time students were sharing more personal life events.  I had students openly, through their artwork, visually describe their feelings about losing a parent, family addictions, trauma, anxiety, and gender issues. The most positive thing about it was students were overall more acceptive and less judgemental of each other.  The Art Studio provided a safe place for these people to vent and produce some wonderful artwork.

Think for a moment, what do you enjoy most about art? Do you display it in your home?  Do you like to create? Do you like to explore new places and cultures?  Do you enjoy being creative through painting, drawing, cooking, gardening, music, theater, writing, photography, etc..? Did you rediscover your creative side during the pandemic? I think many people did rediscover their creative selves during that time at home, even if it included doing some home improvements! People from all walks of life and all ages are taking the time to include art in one way or another into their life. By doing this I believe people are discovering the benefits.

Recently I polled my Instagram followers, and asked the question, why do you enjoy art? Here are a few responses:

“I love how art conveys thoughts, emotions, and feelings that words can’t express. It makes me happy.”; “I love how you can make anything into art, like nature (pics, driftwood, etc..)”; “Art brings me joy. I love being creative and making things.”; “There are no limits. You can express yourself in ways words may not.”; “Creativity”; and  “I can create an entire story placed in a still image.”

 Possibly you share some of these same thoughts, or you may have some other insights to share?  I would love to hear how art has been beneficial for you!  I do believe art is important to our mental health, and I am pretty passionate about this.  It can allow you a time to reflect, process, share, and even express how you are feeling without using any spoken words. Art can provide us with the opportunity to explore and learn from each other.

Art is our first language, it is universal, and all around us. So, what is your art language? Are you a viewer, creator, or both?! Whatever it may be, I hope it brings you peace, allows you an opportunity to take risks, provides enjoyment, and brightens your world when you need it the most.

Barb is an Art Education Consultant and G3 Contributing Writer. Her current series ‘Art for Everyday Enrichment and Mental Health’ will be released weekly on Thursday. Her upcoming series ‘Art Passport’ will look at ways that we can use art to transport ourselves to happy times and evoke feelings of peace and comfort.