Creative Expressions: art as a tool to teach

Pearls of Wisdom reflects the learning experience at the School of Medicine. 

For the next month, Queen’s campus is home to Creative Expressions, an exhibition that collapses the walls of the classroom into the world of visual art.

The exhibition consists of nine installations, scattered haphazardly around campus and composed of teaching and learning materials.

The intent behind the project is to explore what constitutes art and the effective ways that it can be incorporated into the classroom as an educational tool. At Queen’s, teaching practices are constantly evolving, usually through course design and the study of learning outcomes — often missing out on the creative side of the learning process.

On Wednesday, I set out to see as many installations as I could on my usual route to class. A quick visit to their website equipped me with a map illustrating which buildings and floors the various exhibits occupy.  

My first stop was the School of Medicine foyer where a large aquatic painting, entitled Pearls of Wisdom, caught my eye. It illustrates an ocean wave littered with small round objects, people, words and a God-like hand reaching down to scoop them up. In a description accompanying her painting, Lindsay Davidson from the department of surgery explains the artwork reflects the learning experience at the School of Medicine. 

The “pearls of wisdom” in question are pieces of advice and acknowledgment from faculty members that range from “you will feel helpless” to “you are here because you want to help people”. Smaller, less jarring pearls float seemingly beneath the surface to represent other lessons about the ups and downs of becoming a doctor. 

Then I walked up the street to the Biosciences Complex, which holds an expansive piece in its atrium. 

The piece’s size is unmistakable. It’s composed of layers of clear plastic overhead projector sheets, prints of handwritten due dates and chemical formulas. The sheets are covered with bright orange and green geometric prints. 

This is The Artemesia Project: A Significant Residue of Knowledge by Otis Tamasauskas, professor of fine art. The sheets organized in a non-hierarchical order envisioned for me as the viewer a new way of looking at diverse faculties and how we prioritize them. 

Tamasauskas’ work on A Significant Residue of Knowledge first began in 1993, and it was revisited and revised this year before its display. 

I finally walked across campus to Ontario Hall, the home of the Bachelor of Fine Arts student studios and the faculty of art history. Quintin Wight, ArtSci `61, shares the contents of the sketchbooks he filled while taking Art I and Art II in the piece entitled Q in the Studio. 

The idea behind the exhibitionistic nature of an open sketchbook was to demonstrate how art history is best appreciated when one is also creating their own art. 

Creative Expressions forces an appreciation of art as a learning tool in the most intuitive  way possible: through self-discovery and interaction. 

As I made my way through campus, guided only by the exhibit map, I tried to recall at which points in my undergraduate education that I or my professors had used art as a educational tool. I came up empty-handed, but not discouraged. 

The art displayed by the various students and professors was inspiring for someone who studies science, but is constantly creating and seeking out art. 

I felt I had been let in on a secret that I was relieved to have heard. Art is not only acceptable, but useful and necessary. 

I made my way into my biochemistry lecture hall, sketchbook gripped extra tightly  among my lab notes — just in case. 

Creative Expressions locations:  

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