In my thesis project I was interested in making the classroom a place where students could seek a deeper understanding of themselves through artmaking. I explored with students how the process of making art is as important as the products created, how the journey is sometimes even more important than the destination, and how the students’ lived experience can be used as material for self-discovery, self-expression, and growth. I incorporated the use of body movements and drawing experiments in my thesis research. I was interested in learning what it would mean for students to engage in an art practice focused on “the collaborative process over art product, placing experience as a cornerstone” (Desai, 2002, p. 309). I was curious to find out how students would approach artmaking when the importance placed on an end result shifted toward the meaningful work it takes to get there.
Making art has helped me realize who I am, where I come from, and how I relate the world around me to the world within me. Making art is a way to listen to myself think and to try to connect with other people. I pay close attention to details. I collect and produce images. I observe how my environment influences the way that I move through it. I understand artmaking to be a questioning process. Through it, I have learned to see myself more clearly. An art practice that values process and product can be thought of as a "process whereby the individual finds, defines, or discovers an idea or problem not predetermined by the situation or task" (James, 1996, p. 360). Process is a keyword that helped to guide my thesis research. I was interested in engaging students in an artmaking practice that emphasizes the process of grappling with and solving problems creatively.
The purpose of my thesis research was to find ways to enable students to gain a deeper understanding of who they are through artmaking. What journey are these particular students on? To and from school, to and from class, moving through their lives. Reflecting on movement became a process of mapping their lives. I was interested in engaging students in the process of self-reflection and critical thinking. Critical thinking was a concept integral to my study. According to Gaye Green (2006), the four main characteristics of critical thinking are: “metaphorical thinking, experimentation, challenge of prevailing thought, and [finding] meaning within [a] sociological context” (p. 50). In my thesis project, students used critical thinking skills to think about connections between space and movement as they experimented with drawing.
The following questions guided my research: How will students respond to an artmaking practice with an emphasis placed on process and product? What happens when students’ unique paths taken to and from school become a context for making art? What occurs when an art teacher looks to the aesthetic strategies of contemporary artists for teaching strategies?
In my thesis project, students were encouraged to pay close attention to their surroundings and research the ways in which they moved through them. In asking students to map their daily routes, I hoped that they would gain a heightened awareness of their physical bodies in space. Physical literacy was a key concept important to my study. A person who is physically literate recognizes her movements as meaningful, capable of influencing the people and places around her. The concept of physical literacy places an importance on possessing a consciousness of the “movement involved in everyday life” (Whitehead, 2005, p. 20). By encouraging students to become aware of their daily movements, I hoped that they would begin to question the ways they influence and are influenced by the built environment around them.
In my thesis project, I positioned students as researchers so that they could begin to see themselves as the sources of their own knowledge. Students as researchers, according to Kincheloe and Steinberg (1998), “set the stage for a long running, meta-dialogue with themselves. This inner conversation leads to a perpetual redefinition of their images of both self and world” (p. 15). In my thesis project students researched the daily paths they take to and from school. What did they see? What specific movements did they make? What made their different routes unique? This personally relevant research then became source material for drawing and painting experiments. Acting as records, these drawings and paintings became extensions of the body’s movement.
Students used mapping as a way to combine image, movement, and abstract narrative to make things that are normally invisible, visible. Making drawings of their specific movement gestures in relation to particular places helped make the relationships between external and internal worlds more apparent to students. How does the environment shape the way we move? I hoped that in facilitating situations for students to understand their everyday movements as resources for making art, they would become less apprehensive about learning to draw. My study focused on challenging students’ perceptions of drawing as it is typically seen as a technical exercise in art education.
In my thesis project, I worked within the paradigm of action research. Action research calls for some sort of change or action to take place. Action researchers gain insight into themselves as well as into the lives of their participants. According to Esterberg (2002), “action researchers focus on both the process of conducting research and its outcome” (p. 136). She goes on to say, “action research involves relinquishing at least some control over the research process” (p. 141). I positioned myself and my students/research participants as co-investigators (Esterberg, p. 136), and viewed all of the people involved as “experts” (Desai, 2002, p. 31). I tried to remain open to learning about my own inner world through the experience of working closely with students and understanding the process of learning to draw from their point of view.
In considering how this project was critical, meaningful and transformative, and for whom, I imagine it being so for all involved. I hoped that my project would give students new perspectives not only on art, the process of making art, and the material products that come from it, but also critical insight into who they are as they reflect on what they’re making. For myself, I anticipated and welcomed the fact that not everything in this project would go exactly as planned. This forced me to reflect on my own process as an artist, a researcher, and, finally, as a teacher.