Education through Art. The exhibition Equity as a search for Peace
Art takes on the character of expression of the Self, accessible not only to academics or specialists, instead it is a form of expression of freedom, of development of the values of Dignity and a way of promoting social progress.Carlos Barros
Art is the most immersive experience between the ‘self’, the ‘other’ and the context. Art allows us to express feelings, concerns, experiences, perspectives and dreams. Above all, it shows in the vanguard some dimension about personal-social reality, as a potential to development. This concern is visible in the socio-historical context:
As far back as 1898, Tolstói, pointed out that art raises moral, social, aesthetic and political questions that lead to an important reflection on human feelings. This author, although more concerned with an accessible and universal aesthetic phenomenon, emphasizes two essential dimensions in art. The first is a functionalist one: fulfilling a function with an active role and voice in society; this is combined with a second essentialist dimension: intrinsic, in which all works fulfill such a function, despite having different impacts.
Later, already in the reconstruction of the first World War, the author Dewey developed an important discussion on the need for Peace Education, with emphasis on the role of the curricula as a tool for inclusion and acceptance of diversity for connection between people and countries.
Concretely, this author defended the centrality of the study of Geography and History as central elements in an integrative vision. That is:
Geography – especially in its human dimension – allows young students to understand human diversity, cultural aspects, habits, societies, occupations/jobs, and even artistic production as a reflection of these social dynamics. History, on the other hand, functions as an excellent discipline for understanding current problems (e.g. wars), by knowing the relationships and dynamics of the past in order to manage a present with tensions rooted in conceptions of patriotism or nationalism that reinforce the idea of groups/identities with different powers.
The intention is, rather than a more traditional perspective, that the curricula can explore equality between Human Beings, only with diverse cultural backgrounds. This decreases the possibility of xenophobia, racism, or any perception of superiority of groups/countries over others.
Already in the 40s of the XXI century, by the coining of Herbert Read, the concept of Education through Art emerges. A concept still used today, both in formal education (e.g. schools) and in informal education (e.g. educational services in museums, exhibitions) and is based on the proposal to educate on an aesthetic basis, proposing a reflection and learning based on the senses and sensitivity. In this way, we can enhance the discovery of the Self and the Other, leading to the central question of the concept: “what is Peace?” (and how to reach it?).
It is relevant to contextualize that Education through Art emerged in post-World War II, where it is necessary to bring out of the classrooms and artistic spaces the reflection on Human Rights values, highlighting how we can develop empathy to see and express the need for intra and interpersonal dignity.
Art takes on the character of expression of the Self, accessible not only to academics or specialists, instead it is a form of expression of freedom, of development of the values of Dignity and a way of promoting social progress in the most varied contexts.
The year 2022 is marked by various internal and external tensions. This is reflected whether at a personal, relational, family, work, state, or even global level. The (post)pandemic period, the various periods of social isolation, the different ways of work-life balance, the increase in the amount of fake news (which interferes with the form of digital connection developed as an approach to the other and to information), the war resulting from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, inflation and the reduction of the perception of control over the future (e.g. health, job stability, decent housing and food), influence well-being, even with fragile coping mechanisms and insufficient political measures.
Having arrived at this point, and considering the progress of current digital resources, as well as the very concept of artistic expression that became more democratic, reinforcing the importance of art in education, it is time to make a social transfer in the academy – to transform academic literature into social reality.
With this theoretical rationale, I developed a social experiment at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa. With a hybrid combination of face-to-face and digital resources, it was developed in the BJPII Library an exhibition that aims to develop an awareness of the need for Peace. In the exhibition between 24 June and 30 September 2022, a set of works, entitled “Equity Exhibition”, was made available in the atrium of the space – before accessing the usual library services.
They were made available:
- Exhibition of one of the first translations into the Portuguese language of the Declaration of Human Rights, with a digital activity inviting to the construction of values about human dignity;
- Twelve (12) photographic works on the perception of young adults on Human Rights – a challenge coordinated with a Portuguese IPSS that provides support to young students in social-financial disadvantages;
- Testimonies/ reflections of young scientists and the team integrating the 1st Edition of the Post-Doctoral Programme in Integral Human Development;
- Consultation is available on your mobile phone to videos, literature, and links to entities that work for the common good.
The pieces had constant access to reading through QR Codes, allowing them to save or share content with their social networks and a “thread” was attributed between the pieces through an audio guide available in Portuguese and English.
I cannot, yet, share the results of each dynamic where participants were challenged to rectify/add/reflect on the Declaration of Human Rights. Still, I can share the various accounts of what empathy can be to “put on the shoes of the Other”.
Firstly, I would like to highlight the depth of the adaptation of the exhibition throughout its duration: the creation and maintenance of the website, the adaptation of contents, creation of longitudinal dynamics, logistic cooperation (setting up/ connecting/ disconnecting devices each day), Portuguese-English translations and conception/recording of audio guides, made it possible to build perspectives of what is intended for accessibility (and diverse) with the use of all the interveners.
The whole team involved took part in the challenge of building knowledge and essential elements with flexibility and interdisciplinarity. All suggestions were accepted as a gift, as the “greatest piece of art”: the result of several hands and brains.
Secondly, the call for reflections from young scientists and the team that integrates the 1st Post-Doctoral Programme on Integral Human Development was an essential reflection for the visitors to get to know different perspectives, people, and visions, but with the common concept of Dignity. We verified that Human Rights (HR) are widely connected with Integral Human Development (IHD). Only by strengthening the values of human rights can we move towards what IHD is (and vice-versa).
Finally, the visit by students, teachers, members of scientific events and external elements of the university community was strong in the perception of the exhibition as having a clear, accessible, and necessary message that made them reflect on how they can intervene in their daily lives, by virtue of greater well-being.
In my opinion, we have made a good start on Education through Art. Now that the exhibition leaves its physical space, I invite you to be part of it digitally (www.equidade.pt). Soon, the pieces will find another place where they can be a (re)discovery, but this short report which aims to invite everyone to use art as education and empathy in a society that needs urgent care.
Special tribute and thanks: This project was only possible thanks to the support of the BJPII team, with special thanks to Ana Folque (the project’s main strength), as well as to the incredible Bruno Marçal, João Matias, José Zacarias, Maria Perdigão, Claúdia Catanho and Ricardo Cunha; to the CADOS team and DHI program, for sharing several questions/perspectives; to Patrícia Anzini who gave voice to the visit; to the management of the Duarte Tarré Association, who kindly provided images. Finally, to the smiles of the students who left prolonged periods of study during exams season and stopped in front of the works with enthusiasm for discovery.
* Cover Image Creative Commons License Type
**Please find the portuguese version on the next page
**Por favor, aceda à próxima página para a versão portuguesa da publicação
 Tolstói, L. (2013) O que é a Arte?. Lisboa: Gradiva.
 Barros, C. (2014). Teatro como ferramenta educativa psicossocial. Porto: Livpsic / Mais Leituras.
 Howlett, C. F. (2008). John Dewey and peace education. Encyclopedia of peace education, 25.
 Read, H. (2001). A Educação pela Arte. São Paulo: Martins de Fontes