The power of art during the pandemic

Bringing learning to life during school closures

June 24, 2020

The power of art during the pandemic

For some visual art students in Rainbow Schools, the pandemic provided a rich source of inspiration to nurture their artistic abilities and give rise to their voice.

Teacher Vanessa Catto of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School invited her students to draw on their imaginations through a series of fun art challenges with themes – Blue, That’s Unusual, Covid Challenges, and Art Appropriation.

The results were impressive. Images imbued with a variety of shades of blue, some soft, some stark; wacky and wonderful art from the conventional to the uncanny; concepts of being caged and connected; and stunning remakes of works of art, album covers and movie posters.

“Some interpreted ‘Blue’ to describe how they were feeling, ‘Well, that’s Unusual’ let them explore the uncertainty and bizarreness of current life, while ‘Covid Challenges’ really asked them to dig into how COVID affected them,” she said.

She added: “Another in class project we did, which really was more of an example of art imitating life, was a social commentary unit where students focused on topics relevant to them. Very powerful COVID images, also Black Lives Matter, and mental health issues were explored.”

According to Vanessa Catto, the arts can be a powerful platform for expression and historically mirror what’s happening in the world.

“For many people, they don’t know how to say how they feel but can create it, or alternatively someone can look at an artwork and connect to what they feel or think,” she says. “The arts provide a different way of seeing and perceiving the world with no language or cultural barriers.”

“The COVID challenges created a lot of joy for me and my students,” says Vanessa Catto. ”I continue to be amazed by the quality of work that my art students have created during school closure. They truly are inspirational.”

Resiliency emerged throughout distance learning. “It reconfirmed to me that those who love art can find release, joy and pride in their artwork, even with limited supplies and a different kind of feedback,” she says.

Sudbury Secondary School’s talented visual art students were also eclectic and inspirational during the school closure period which coincided with the annual Exposed art exhibit. The exhibit moved from in school to online.

“My goal initially was to just share it with staff and students as a celebration of the power of art to help us through difficult times and to show how prolific some of my students were during this time,” says visual art teacher Sue Bechard.

“The art show was subsequently shared on the school Facebook page, Instagram and the school website. The benefit of this virtual platform is that it became accessible to so many more people who would normally not have come to the traditional exhibition. Most of the work shown was produced during the school closure period which made it especially poignant.”

Mediums of drawing (pencil, charcoal, conte, etc), painting (watercolour, acrylic, oil), printmaking and sculpture as well as mixed media and digital art were displayed. Subject matters varied from portraits and landscapes to the more expressive and contemporary, including social commentary pieces.

This led to an exhibit of student work produced during the latter part of the school year. “My Grade 12 students were given the theme ‘Pandemic’ for their culminating project. The project was open to any media and style, and they were encouraged to represent their take on the word pandemic based on their experience of current events.”

Colleague Tara Mulcahey invited her art students to participate as well. “The quality of the work was astounding,” says Sue Bechard. “ More than anything, themes of isolation and loneliness seemed to predominate, as well as loss of self, or maybe loss of voice.”

She added: “We are like a family at Sudbury Secondary School and the isolation was difficult for many of my students. In a sense, the art show brought them back together and made them feel connected.”

Here’s a sample of some of the amazing art that students produced: