Cultural Perspectives Through Art

Cultural Perspectives Through Art

by Aaron Reed, ES and MS Art Teacher

The Grade 3 students will soon meet and work with two visiting artists, Colleen and Shoichi Sakurai, during art class for our Unit 4 inquiry, entitled "The choices people make as they buy and consume things can lead to the creation of waste." The Sakurais are two of several artists who visit YIS each year as part of our school’s Visiting Presenters Program. What is our purpose in organizing such encounters?
At YIS the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) not only focuses our learning beyond knowledge and skills to concepts, understandings, and dispositions but also encourages us to learn about our host culture. Thus, bringing in artists who live and work in Japan not only reinforces what and how students learn but also opens a new window onto Japanese culture from a native perspective.
Each Grade 3 art student will be challenged to upcycle items they bring to class from home.  They arrive to art class with bags of unwanted materials and aim to turn them into art. Shoichi and Colleen have been making and exhibiting “upcycled” art since long before the term became popular. They love to play with materials -- junk, old appliances, random items found along the roadside -- and make unique artworks as well as utilitarian objects such as jewelry, clothes, and lamps with them. Next time you are in school, have a look at the illuminated samurai armor hanging near the YIS Library for an example of Shoichi’s imaginative craft.

Visiting Presenters working with art students
Visiting presenter working with students

Like our young learners, Shoichi and Colleen are constantly observing, questioning, exploring, playing, researching, making mistakes, and wondering as they create. By working alongside the Sakurais and in observing, touching, and questioning their artwork, the children’s own natural instincts to inquire, explore, and play are validated and reinforced. And they begin to understand how their own approaches to learning , such as thinking, communicating, researching, collaborating, managing themselves, are not unlike how professional artists design, develop, and create their art, and how all adults progress and succeed in various professions, in all walks of life.
Beyond these immediate experiences, it is from a conceptual standpoint that these artists’ visits may be most meaningful and long-lasting. Shoichi and Colleen live and work with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi -- the notion of “finding beauty in that which is imperfect, impermanent, incomplete”. The ability to see beauty or value in objects which might otherwise be ignored or considered unappealing or worthless requires the viewer to perceive the world in a different way. The Sakurais explicitly emphasize that the way we look at common things such as  an old box, a person, a picture can actually change our experience of it. Beyond wabi-sabi, it is this concept of “perspective” that is at the core of the unit, helping students envision their bag of trash as a bag of treasures instead. It is our hope that they begin to understand that seeing the world differently involves a decision to make an open-minded, pro-active choice to broaden one’s own mind.
In bringing artists to YIS to work with these young inquiring minds, we endeavor to augment our students’ learning, to encounter ideas which are uniquely Japanese, and to broaden their spectrum of creativity to include ideas and ways of thinking that they’ve never before experienced.

See pictures of Shoichi and Colleen's visit from last year.