Art and Humane Education

By Kristina Hulvershorn

Most children love art. For many, it’s an opportunity to let loose and express an emotional world that they are still learning to articulate. I have been continually reminded, as a humane educator, how seamlessly art can be paired with humane education topics.

Often, upon learning about a topic like child labor or how corporations contribute to pollution, children arrive in a place of mixed emotions and “what now?” thinking. If we don’t provide some pathway for productive action, we can leave them feeling hopeless and even scared. Here are a list of some of the reasons why art can and should have a role in humane education endeavors.

A visual display (made from trash) on the number of planets we would need if all citizens of Earth lived like Americans. (it’s 4.1!)

Art satisfies a deep need to communicate. Many students I have worked with have a desire to tell the world what they are learning about. Art provides that mechanism for immediate communication.

Art makes it personal. There are a lot of emotions involved in humane education topics. Art allows us to access those emotions and communicate them to others in beautiful and compelling ways.

Students writing speeches, working to find their voice to express their concern for local environmental issues. Local youth involved in theatre inspired these changemakers to learn from the art of theatre to help compel their audience.

Art frees us from the limiting mechanisms of verbal communication. Some of the most shy and reserved youth I have worked with have astounded me with their depth of understanding and concern when given the opportunity.

Art encourages critical thinking. Art really deepens the connection to and critical thinking on a topic because it encourages students to personalize and extend that knowledge in new ways.

In costume, following a play about the plight of bees, a trio of youth show off a board game they created about the impacts of human action on animals and the planet. Art takes on a number of different forms not limited to traditional visual art.

Art facilitates genuine empowerment. Adults often have a hard time letting go of control. We are used to asking youth to create certain products, behave in specified ways, and so on. The nature of art and creative endeavors, in general, necessitate adults to take a back seat and trust the wisdom and capability of youth.

Art makes people notice. I could lecture for an hour about global climate change, but the moment I show students our “CO2 balloons”, people pay attention. These were made by youth to help illustrate the actual weight of CO2. Art has a way of conveying information and making people stop to take that information in.

CO2 Balloons, housed at Indianapolis’ “be the change” museum, sparking a discussion about how impactful everyday choices are on the environment.

Art makes this content more inclusive. There are those who respond to facts and figures, those who read lengthy articles (like this one!), and many who only get looped in if something compels them to do so. Often, art helps pull in those who might otherwise only show a peripheral interest in the issue at hand.

It’s worth the time! As an educator who tends toward pragmatism, I am reminded time and time again to not forsake opportunities for art. It is in these opportunities that I see some of the deepest connections to the content and the most lasting impact.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top