Art Therapy: one of the many roles traditional art plays in the digital era

Concordia Arts Hive conjures the psychological and spiritual aspect of arts

The history of art therapy goes back to around the 1700s, when art was being used in various modes of psychological treatment. According to Lois Woolf, founder of the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute, art therapy was first explored in Europe and North America in the 1940s.

The study of this subject and human psychology was explored in increasing depth for years. Unlike art creation, art therapy focuses on the process of art rather than the result.

The Centre for the Arts in Human Development at Concordia University provides creative art therapy for people with disabilities and special needs, as well as for people with anxiety and depression. Senior associate director Lenore Vosberg says that instead of teaching art skills,  the centre helps people express themselves through different art forms.

“It’s a very supportive place. People get a lot of good and positive feedback for everything they do here,” Vosberg said. The centre works to build participants’ self-esteem and self confidence, as well as build relationships and trust through the process of art creation.

As art is a genre of work that embraces different ideologies, art therapy is useful for all kinds of people. It’s an alternative to traditional therapy for people who find it easier to express themselves through an art form rather than speaking to a therapist. 

The Concordia Art Hive is a public practice art therapy space, located on the first floor of the ER building downtown and on the fourth floor of the central building at Loyola in the G-Lounge. The spaces are accessible to anyone who wishes to achieve self-expression through art. Students sit around a table to communicate with each other while creating their crafts. 

Rachel Chainey is an art therapist who coordinates the Art Hive HQ located at Concordia’s downtown campus. She says that one of their challenges is getting people to understand what art therapy is.

“Some people would be intimidated by arts because they think they should be good,” Chainey said. “[But you approach] it from an angle of play. It’s not a performance, or result, but more of a process.”

There are more than 30 art hives in Montreal. Traditional arts are spreading internationally into many other fields, like technology, creating endless possibilities for artists everywhere. 

Art education student Kaida Kobylka stopped by the Art Hive with the goal of observing art studios in a public space. She explained the process of an AI project that she had explored, in which she had to put the artistic idea first to let it create. “AI can learn and create, but it can’t just make something out of nothing yet,” said Kobylka. “I have to put the artistic thoughts into the input, it isn’t just replacing an artistic mind.”

“Everybody has the crisis when they are an artist, like does what I made matter or would painting exist in the future,” Kobylka said, “but the answer is yes, the paintings are still evolving and relevant.” 

Indeed, art has been always seen as a form of self-expression and materialized thoughts throughout the existence of humankind, and this is how traditional art participates in society in a psychological and spiritual way. 


Teaching online: Concordia’s professors prepare for the worst, but hope for the best

Months of training have lead faculty members to this moment

As we head into the new school year, we all contemplate how we will deal with the mountain of work that university brings. We organize our schedules, prepare our home offices and get ready for an academic year like none other.

But while we’ve been busy coping with the student side of things, Concordia’s faculty members are adapting swiftly to the online teaching model.

Professor Alan Nash teaches geography classes such as ‘A World of Food’ and ‘Place, Space and Identity.’ He used to motivate his students by throwing bags of chips their way when they answered a question.

But when thrown into the world of remote teaching, Nash had to find other ways to communicate with students.

“One of the things I tried to do is develop my PowerPoints so it would be possible to read them all through. But I realized that even written all out, some of it is not clear. Some things … need to be narrated or talked through.”

Nash is leaning fully into new teaching techniques to best deliver his courses online.

“I think what’s important here is I am as keen to figure out from the students what’s gonna work and how to do things,” he says. “I think we also have to recognize [online learning] is a different thing.”

Professor Amélie Daoust-Boisvert teaches many classes in the journalism department, such as ‘Gender, Diversity and Journalism.’ With an engaged teaching style, Daoust-Boisvert says, “it doesn’t matter what platform you use … What’s important is the relationship you are able to establish [with students] even though it’s online.”

Providing students with one-on-one meetings and small group workshops, Daoust-Boisvert is taking an asynchronous approach to her classes.

“For the shyer ones it’s a little easier. Because if you are 20 or 40 [students] in a Zoom meeting, maybe you’re a little shy to raise your hand. So those are the things I’m thinking about. I’m sure I will have to adjust anyway.”

Our professors have faced many challenges along the way, Alan Nash notes.

“In the geography department, we’ve had workshops on Friday afternoons where we got together on Zoom and said ‘Hey, how are we going to do this?’”

Although these professors have different teaching styles — and therefore have differently structured online classes — they both agree that feedback from students will be key.

“Usually [when] you’re in class, you know they understand or they’re bored — you see it in their faces,” says Professor Daoust-Boisvert. “I think everyone is looking for feedback right now.”


Teachers learn from teachers

How should teachers assess the way their students learn? How can they ensure that they are providing meaningful feedback?

These are only a few of the questions answered by the panel of experts featured in the Colloquium on Effective Assessment Practices, held at Concordia last Tuesday.

The event, aimed at improving the way teachers communicate with their students, featured a panel of experts in the fields of teaching and learning who addressed the crowded room of teachers, TAs, and students. They presented examples from their research and experiences, including innovative teaching practices and ideas on inceasing student engagement in the classroom.

“Often, exams don’t test knowledge, they merely test a student’s ability to handle stress,” said panelist Dr. Jennifer Clark, academic director of the faculty of arts and sciences at the University of New England. “By making the implicit explicit, teachers can reduce fear by role-playing, and thus build confidence in the student.”

Clark suggested that teachers themselves perform the tasks they ask of their students, in order to show them the correct processes. As a result, students no longer waste time on worrying about how to do the task, and can actually focus on getting their work done.

Panelist Earle Abrahamson, author, educator, and chair of a multinational teaching fellowship, developed a mentorship system between first-year and final year students. This way, “[students] know what to expect from teachers because they have access to the experiences of their mentors,” he said, “and it helps them know how to succeed.”

Dr. Diane Bateman, assessment specialist and researcher at Champlain College Saint-Lambert, has one-on-one meetings with her students before she submits their final grades.

“They need feedback before submitting their work,” she said, “so that they can build knowledge and work towards a grade.” Her suggestion was met by criticism from a JMSB management professor in the audience, who thought this form of formative assessment would shelter students from the competitiveness of the real world.

Much of the ensuing discussion was in support of Dr. Bateman’s idea that, in fact, it is “the responsibility of the teacher to develop the student, not just let them sink or swim.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds, director of learning and teaching at the University of Westminster in London, told the audience that “what is important is that we can design assessments that have real meaning and value to a student, which motivate them to succeed and to develop higher order thinking skills.”

In an interview, Eales-Reynolds spoke of the challenges teachers face in preparing their students for real-world problems.

“Getting the assessment right is absolutely key to getting students to engage and be enthusiastic about their learning,” she said. “It can also be a way to help students engage more fully with their subject and get excited about it and get passionate.”

“It’s so rewarding when you see a student’s work, and you suddenly witness “the Aha!” moment, when a student finally gets what it is you’re trying to get across to them – when they finally discover for themselves that really exciting moment,” she added. “And assessment is a really important aspect of that learning experience.”

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