When I work with students, one of the most common misconceptions I encounter is that career is a straight line. Career as non-linear can be a new and challenging idea for many students to accept. Much like career, the process of making art is also non-linear. Applying an arts-based approach to career development helps students cultivate the capacity for creativity so they can better navigate the unpredictable landscape of work.
What is arts-based learning?
Arts-based learning is a pedagogical approach that uses the artistic process to facilitate learning. Participants engage in arts-based practices to extend their understanding of a concept or topic. The focus of arts-based learning is on the process, not on artistic merit. Artistic expertise is not required when engaging in this work.
Randee Lipson Lawrence, author of Artistic Ways of Knowing and numerous articles on arts-based learning, proposes that art offers a unique way to heighten our understanding of self and others.
- Knowing yourself: Engaging in arts-based learning allows us to understand ourselves in a more integrated way and uncover knowledge that may otherwise go unnoticed. It is also an opportunity for us to see a familiar part of ourselves in a new way. This alternative way of knowing helps us to express our learning, which is not easily captured, through words.
- Knowing others: Although arts-based learning is useful for individual work, it is particularly powerful when used in a group setting. Hearing others describe their art and process encourages perspective shifting and extends one’s understanding of others. What is universal and particular about our experiences come together in the artistic space.
Arts-based learning and career education
The Dream Job Academy, at the University of Toronto, is an arts-based career exploration series, where students explore and identify their dream careers. The curriculum is designed to increase students’ self-knowledge and self-awareness as they engage in career exploration, seeking to make their chosen work meaningful and rewarding.
In the fourth session, students create dioramas using collage to identify preferred characteristics for future work. In some cases, the dioramas created are literal representations of work environments, while others are cerebral manifestations of career desires. Regardless of the form, when sharing their representations with each other, students gain insights into who they are and what is important to them for their careers.
“… arts-based learning encourages self-reflective skills, which are essential for lifelong learning throughout one’s career.“
There are many other arts-based learning activities to facilitate career exploration, including collaborative drawing, story boarding, photovoice, creative writing, video, sculpture and textile.
Using arts-based learning for career education does not have to be costly. Inexpensive art materials will do the trick. The only requirement is a skilled facilitator who values art for its learning potential and has the capacity to support participants through this impactful work.
The necessity of creative thinking
Arts-based learning is an alternative to inventory lists and personality assessments that gives students the opportunity to identify skills, values and interests in a holistic way. Furthermore, arts-based learning encourages self-reflective skills, which are essential for lifelong learning throughout one’s career.
As career practitioners, we know that career is much more than resumes and interviews. There is a high degree of uncertainty in career, making it difficult to predict the outcome. Likewise, an artist does not know exactly how a piece of art will turn out. When making art, it is necessary to employ creative thinking and innovative solutions to challenges we may encounter. When we use arts-based learning for career education, we apply this artistic mindset so participants can better manage career expectations and challenges.
Lawrence, R. L. (2005). Knowledge construction as contested terrain: Adult learning through artistic expression. New directions for adult and continuing education, 2005(107), 3-11.
Lawrence, R. L. (2008). Powerful feelings: Exploring the affective domain of informal and arts‐based learning. New directions for adult and continuing education, 2008(120), 65-77.