Using visual art as a means of communication workshop
Facilitators: Fiona Sedgers (Art Teacher) & Kim Bulkeley

Final year students participated in a Unit of Study that explored international community development. The assessment required student pairs to submit a piece of visual art work with a 250 word abstract to communicate an occupation based perspective of an issue within an international community. Since occupational therapy students are not art students, they are sometimes challenged by this type of assessment task. In the past, students have expressed that it is unfamiliar and they often feel ill equipped with “creative” and “artistic” skills.
The purpose of the workshop was to break down these barriers to engaging with a visual medium to communicate a message.
Art has been applied in occupational therapy in three main ways:
  • therapeutic
  • research
  • knowledge translation
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Kim Bulkeley
Therapeutically art has been used as an expressive medium to support a range of clients, children and adults, to communicate feelings and explore their reactions to situations and experiences. Some occupational therapists specialize in this form of therapy and use it extensively
Art is being increasingly used as a research tool, with researchers providing opportunities for participants to create art works as a way of communicating their views on the research topic of interest. Such things as group murals, photo journals, individual drawings and paintings have been created and analysed to gain understanding of youth mental health attitudes, homelessness, and art as occupation for example.
Knowledge translation is an important part of our work as occupational therapists, evidence based practitioners and researchers. We are often seeking to inform clients and colleagues of the current thinking and engaging with communities and individuals to share information about occupational related issues. The use of creative visual means strengthens communication and ensures clarity and specificity of the message to target audiences. There is good reason to explore the use of visual art to expand the repertoire of communication skills of occupational therapy students.
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Fiona Sedgers

Workshop Activity:
  • A Youtube trigger video was presented: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5UAqvIDvgo
  • A brief introduction to the use of visual art as a communication medium was provided.
  • A number of famous art works were presented to demonstrate the variety of media available to communicate visually. Artists use a variety of materials to communicate their ideas and concepts. A selection of contemporary artworks was presented to the students to open up the idea that any material could be used and that students did not have to demonstrate a sophisticated level of drawing or painting ability
  • Sculptures by Antony Gormley, Ai Weiwei, Rosalie Gascoigne and Fiona Hall’s clever coke can baby clothes were some of the artists suggested to examine further, as well as the more modern well known classics of Robert Rauschenberg. Found objects and discarded material was highlighted and encouraged for this visual art project, so the students could concentrate more on the concept and message of their artwork, rather than using expensive art materials, and worrying about technical skills.

A practical activity was undertaken to engage the students in consideration of an occupational issue that was related to a community, but did not extend into the topic area required for their assessment task.

Alcohol Fuelled Violence was identified as a current topical community issue in NSW that students would be familiar with, enabling them to engage in the production of an art work without further research in an impromptu way. Students were asked to consider the issue from an occupation point of view; consider the stakeholders involved; the roles played by various stakeholders; underlying social issues; ramifications; solutions; implications; consequences etc.

The art activity was based on the production of multiple individual figures completed in pairs. The use of collage materials on a template individual cardboard cut out with two sides, which allowed the figure to stand and be placed within a group of figures to speak to the variety of perspectives of this issue.

The activity allowed the students to explore visual techniques to convey the issues they identified about Alcohol Fuelled Violence with the intention of breaking down their fears about not being artistic or having the required creativity and skills to communicate visually.

Below are some photos of what the workshop participants produced:
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