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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Weaving of Artistic and Political Voice in Art Making about Social Issues

  • Author(s): Dahn, Margaret Mary
  • Advisor(s): Enyedy, Noel D
  • Sandoval, William A
  • et al.

The goal of this dissertation is to understand how students developed their voices as they made art about social issues. As sixth grade students participated in an in-school visual arts class that I designed and taught, I attended to their talk about art and art making to study both what it meant to have a voice in a classroom discussion context as well as how they developed what I term their individual artistic and political voices. For the purpose of studying different kinds of student voice as it developed in interaction over the course of an instructional experience, I used design-based research to plan for structures of participation and discourse in pedagogy and curriculum. Designed structures included whole group, small group, and partner sharing focused on personal narratives about social issues, critique, and reflections on presenting art to an audience. I aimed to understand how curriculum and pedagogy supported how students talked about art making, what it meant to have a voice in the classroom context, and students’ individual development of artistic and political voice.

Through analysis of student art, talk, and interaction, I argue that students’ levels of personal distance from their chosen social issues mediated how they talked about and expressed emotion through representational choices, that representational choices were linked to developing communicative practices around art making, and that students worked in ways that made sense to them consistent with their lived experiences. I argue that having a voice was interactionally developed during discussions and defined as collaborative, democratic, and heterogeneous. And finally, through individual focus students, I show how students’ artistic and political voices symbiotically influenced one another as they interacted with particular mediating factors to transform their chosen topics into messages and art materials into mediums. This study will extend our understanding of how students develop their voices in classroom interaction and help conceive of ways to frame and organize arts learning experiences in schools. Results are relevant to how student voice is theorized and operationalized, how the value of arts education can be linked to learning and student experience, and methodological considerations for design-based research.

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