When Professor Elizabeth J. Sacc‡, Director of Concordia's Art Education graduate program, asked her students to write about their earliest aesthetic experiences for a class exercise, little did her pupils know their recollections would one day become part of a book.
Stories of Art, Culture and Learning was launched at the Visual Arts Building last week. Some 60 people, including Art Education and Art Therapy Chair Lorrie Blair, Concordia Rector Frederick Lowy and Vice-Rector Services Charles Emond, stopped by the cocktail party sponsored by the University Bookstore, where they sipped Chardonnay and offered congratulations to Sacc‡ and the 14 Master's and PhD students who contributed to the 50-page collective work.
The students were told to write their pieces quickly and naturally in about an hour, an exercise developed by well-known art educator Marilyn Zurmuehlen. Writing in such a short time-span gave each piece a whimsical, na•ve feeling, reproducing the simplicity of each student's first conscious aesthetic experience. Another part of the book features student responses to a seminar given by aboriginal leader Katsi's‡kwas Ellen Gabriel.
Through its informal stories and tone, the book aims to clarify or emphasize the values art educators support in their work and in society as a whole. "There is an increasing movement in art education to recognize the relationship between art and stories," Sacc‡ said. "The idea is to focus on what is important and meaningful."
MA student Tara Bisett, 26, wrote how volunteering as an art teacher at the YWCA's Teenage Mothers Service opened her eyes both aesthetically and socially, and found the writing experience "very meaningful and introspective." It also had the added advantage of permitting students to come together outside of the classroom.
MA student Stephanie Stone, 33, found the project nostalgic, and more appealing, by not being typically academic. "It also allowed us a chance to get to know a little about each other's background."
Contributing to the book, said PhD student Diane Bertazzo, helped make students' individual aesthetic experiences into a collective one. "It was a way to get to know what everyone else is thinking and doing," she said. "Even though we talk in class, it's not often that you get to read what your [classmates] are thinking."