by Alison Ramsey
Art education is a free-form field, and art teachers thrive on variety, taking what they want from many streams of art. Concordia in particular has cultivated this approach, says Professor Elizabeth Saccá, who joined the university just months before the merger in 1974.
"When I came, there were just a couple of people teaching art education courses here and there," she said. "I'm pleased with the development of the department. There's a lot of leeway in developing your own ideas, and we have a great diversity of ideas and approaches."
Professor Saccá will travel to Los Angeles to accept the June King McFee Award on April 2. It is considered to be the most prestigious award given by the National Art Education Association's Women's Caucus, and rewards a career of achievement in writing, teaching and community work.
Saccá has promoted discussion within the profession, giving voice to varied points of view. She took a Concordia in-house publication and transformed it into the Canadian Review of Art Education, the field's first formal research publication. She is also proud of having helped colleagues develop strong pieces for a book she co-edited, Women Art Educators IV: Herstories, Ourstories, Future Stories.
"Art education is a complete interaction," she said in an interview. "An individual is part of society, and society is made up of people's shared meanings. Artists are doing things, and society is saying things that artists are part of and absorbing. We create things that become part of society, and that other people respond to."
An excellent example is a series of videos, most in the Kanien'kéha language spoken by Kanesatà:ke natives, that developed from her love of painting in the nearby "Pines" and her friendship with two fellow artists there. She felt the media portrayed the 1990 Oka Crisis inaccurately.
Stretching a three-year grant into six years, a team of artists created videos incorporating personal stories, remembrances and local images.
"When people watched the videos, they were spellbound," she said. "They'd never experienced anything like it; they were used to seeing video in English and French only."
Not surprisingly, Saccà strives to make her classes relevant to students. Each year, she sets them the task of writing something in under an hour, a memory described without analysis, in blow-by-blow detail. In this way, such jewels emerge as Gary Goodacre's description of himself at age five, having his pink whale painting modified by the teacher.
"I like the smell of the paint, I like wearing an extra shirt over my clothes and I like being able to move around," Goodacre wrote. "She gives me the brush and asks me if I want to paint the whale grey. I don't really want to paint it grey now, but she wants me to . . . and I do like it a bit better when I see it all grey."
Saccá said, "These stories have become a point of departure. We read them in class, and others see connections. Some have even used them as springboards for research. I've tried very hard to ground my teaching in art and life."
She is concerned at how art has been downgraded in the school system. "Art is a system of symbolic meanings for feelings and thoughts. It develops ideas in ways that other areas do not. You can't get it in any other means." She adds that it helps people express things that would otherwise remain unexpressed. "It's a development of the person and of society that's unique."
Photo: Elizabeth Saccá in the VAV Gallery, on the main floor of the VA Building. The sculptures are by student Nadia Ait Said.
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.