Empowered Experiencing & Making

  • Lack of Empowerment
  • Importance in Classrooms
  • Use in Classrooms
  • Recommended Readings

Empowered Experiencing & Making

Lack of Empowerment

Helplessness is an unfortunately common occurrence in students. Non-artists feel helpless in the sense of not being able to draw or paint realistically like the popular artists of history. When I myself was a student I felt helpless most of the time because I wasn’t old enough to vote or get a job, which made me feel like I couldn’t do anything important. That in combination with always being shy made me feel like I didn’t have a voice to make any change either even if I wanted to.

Importance in Classrooms

Bringing opportunities for empowerment into the classroom can give students a chance to not feel so helpless. Art classrooms especially have the opportunity of giving students a voice through the art they create. And, with that voice, students can become more engaged in the classroom or even in their communities through this ability to have a voice and communicate whatever is important to the individual student. A National Endowment for the Arts study has even found that “at-risk students who have access to the arts (either in the curriculum or via extracurricular activities) have higher academic achievement, are more employable, and tend to be more engaged in civic life” (Cruz, B. & Smith, N., 2013). So, students having a harder time in school could benefit a great deal from taking an art class. 

Use in classrooms

Including empowerment in the classroom isn’t too challenging either. Any project that asks students to respond to an issue of importance to them, such as social justice issues or environmental issues, can empower students by allowing them to have a voice to discuss issues, especially if that voice is sent out to the community or someone in power so that their voice can make a change. Art is a very expressive language that can allow students to express this voice in unique and creative ways, and art being a language then leads to students gaining interpretive skills and critical thinking skills through engaged discussions of that art, or problem-solving skills in the process of making the art to communicate meaning.

Contemporary art can then act as examples for further discussion or inspiration, that can empower students by seeing that the artwork they make has a place in the real-world. If those art examples also use a variety of unique materials such as found objects or items from nature and not necessarily realistic drawing and painting, then students may also be empowered in knowing they can make beautiful art without trying to go for realism. It may even inspire them to try something new, and they would continue to be empowered through the experience of experimenting with materials and finding materials that are fun or just work well for the student.

Just the process of making art can be empowering. The boost of creativity from experimenting with materials and trying to think of ways to make things work is exciting for me. That excitement and creativity alone can be the motivation a student needs to make something that does express their ideas and their voice. Because they can make art, hopefully they won’t feel so helpless.

Recommended Readings

  • Bárbara C. Cruz & Noel Smith (2013) Mark Dion’s Troubleshooting: Empowering Students to Create and Act, Art Education, 66:3, 29-38


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