The following article was published in Innovatus, York University’s monthly pedagogical newsletter, on January 19, 2018. It describes an art exercise I gave in my tutorials.
In the last tutorial of the fall term, students in the History course Making Money drew their early memories on money. This exercise, given by artist and Teaching Assistant Noa Yaari, builds on two writing assignments Course Director Professor David Koffman gave that term. The first is to write about an early childhood memory on money, and the second is to analyze an image in which money plays a central role.
“Drawing a memory requires the students to coordinate the image in their mind, their body, art supplies and the work that they gradually create” says Yaari. “It’s challenging and important, since while we are developing our analytical verbal skills, we tend to forget the role our body and senses have in creating and communicating knowledge. We also neglect them as a teaching and learning tool.”
Students drawing childhood memories on money, in History Course “Making Money”
According to Yaari, the distinction between “body” and “mind” limits our perception of ourselves as learning and teaching beings. “I find teaching to be a great opportunity to explore learning processes,” says Yaari. “For example, returning to a memory that we already wrote a paper on to physically draw it is to literally feel the varied ways in which we can approach the same topic. Welcoming this diversity enriches our understanding of each of the approaches, enabling us to combine them and offer new ones.”
Artwork by Maria Toufiq
“Since money is anyway a sensitive issue, approaching it from different angles helps understand the complexity of learning about it. I hope that this exercise will have a long-term impact on the students,” adds Yaari.
Artwork by Lucas Amello
Student Lucas Amello worked on his memory on selling lemonade in front of his family’s house, to purchase a desired bicycle. He shares his experience: “I think there is a monumental difference between the articulation and depiction of a memory. I find that I attain a greater level of clarity after partaking in an artistic exercise such as this. I was surprised at how clearly I could summarize my 1200-word paper. In the short span of 15 minutes, I was able to effectively depict the full extent of my childhood experience, showcasing in a series of pictures the extensive impact it had on the way I view currency, and the manner in which I conduct my finances.”
Artwork by Narjis Panjwani
Professor David Koffman reflects on the classroom activity. “I was very pleased by Noa’s initiative to have students use art to thicken their experiences of the material we analyzed in class,” says Koffman. “As a General Education course, Making Money is designed not just to promote thinking about money from a variety of new perspectives, but to encourage careful questioning about how different fields of scholarship know what they know. This in-tutorial art exercise took the course aim in an entirely new direction: by returning to the same memory, students got the chance to consider how they can come to know differently what they already know.”
A PhD candidate in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Yaari, who is finishing her dissertation in History, writes on how historians use visual evidence in their publications: “I have no doubt that my research, teaching and art have merged in this exercise. I feel privileged to have these students, course director and the Department of History, who kindly purchased the art supplies, to experience new pedagogical adventures.”