A few years ago I was teaching art to children with disabilities. It was my first official teaching job and one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Back then, the kids called me “Mr. T” (since it was easier than trying to say: “Tirado”). In one of the older kids’ classes I had a student who ran to the bathroom and stayed there every time I can to teach the class. He was friendly outside the classroom, I spent time with his class many times in different activities, and we even had lunch together many times. He never ran away to hide or anything like that. One day during lunch I had to ask: “Why do you hide in the bathroom every time there is art class?”. His answer changed my perception towards teaching and ignited my curiosity to understand self-efficacy beliefs (although I was not familiar with the term back then). He said: “Mr. T, I can’t take that class. I can do nothing of what you teach. I grew up listening to people telling me that I’m stupid. I don’t want to try and then disappoint you too.”
During my doctorate studies I focused my dissertation towards understanding self-efficacy beliefs as a way to predict how people would engage in new learning experiences (you can read about my research in my bio if interested). Based on Social Cognitive Theory, self-efficacy beliefs are the product of the interaction between environment, behavior, and cognitive (and physical) capabilities forming the way with think about ourselves and our skills to reach a goal. The interaction of these factors of causation (environment, behavior, and cognitive) is known as Triadic Reciprocal Determinism. To make it simple: Our experiences and how we react to and interpret these experiences shape what we think of ourselves now and how we are going to approach new challenges. I know you might be thinking: “What in the world does this mumbo-jumbo has to do with art?”
Take a look of the benefits of art in all three factors of causation:
Physical factors: motor skills, eye/hand coordination, neurological reconstruction, stress reliever.
Cognitive factors: emotional relief, attitude change, understanding of culture and society, knowledge increase in art history, coping skills.
Environment: Different approach to decoding social and cultural symbolism, decoding environmental responses.
Behavior: better response to challenges, problem solving, better articulation of ideas.
Remember the kid hiding in the bathroom during art class? I had a conversation with him during lunch one day and taught him how to draw the human figure using basic shapes and proportions. He went his way and a few days later came to show me what he had accomplished. It was very impressive! This kid had so much hidden talent that was captive under the belief that he was stupid because that’s what every one said. That year he achieved the certificate for best improved art student and not only that, he also improved in other domains. He began to understand that what people said won’t count if you know you can do it. After graduation, He became a role model and mentor for younger kids.
I am not saying that art is the solution to your life’s problems. IT IS NOT! However, ART opens spiritual and neurological pathways facilitating the release of repressed emotions, internal conflicts, and traumatic experiences. ART also helps as anxiety, depression and stress reliever. ART is a powerful tool to facilitate transformation. We are not talking about clinical therapy (although it is used clinically), art is therapy in itself, and the results and benefits are available to anyone who engages in the creative experience. This is not at all limited to children. It is often the child who grew up hurt who needs it more.
Art changes lives!