SchoolArts Room

Editor's Letter: Empathy

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Oct 12, 2022

Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of others. How can the power of art be used to both express and explore empathy? To explore the concept of empathy, there is no better resource than Brené Brown, a well-respected research professor at the University of Houston who has worked for decades studying, writing about, and presenting on empathy, courage, vulnerability, and shame.

SchoolArts magazine, The Empathy Issue, October 2022, Editor's Letter
Nancy with a mural in Gallup, New Mexico. Multiple murals around downtown Gallup celebrate and show respect for the Navajo people and their arts and culture.

In a short video, Brown describes four key steps to showing empathy: “perspective taking or putting yourself in someone’s shoes, staying out of judgment and listening, recognizing emotion in another person that you have maybe felt before, and communicating that you recognize that emotion.”

Resources for Teachers and Students

  • I Am Human: A Book of Empathy, by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, explores what it means to be human while encouraging students to make good choices through compassion and empathy. Also included are mindfulness exercises.
  • Cultivating Empathy through Art,” an online resource from the Norton Simon Museum, supports social-emotional learning by using artworks from its collections to explore how art can support and encourage the development of empathy in students. Free curriculum packets and other educational materials are available for grades K–12.
  • The Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts at the Minneapolis Institute of Art is focused on exploring practices for fostering empathy through the power of art. Their website provides an informative overview, reading suggestions, and other resources like toolkits and curricula.

In This Issue
In “The Quest for Empathy in Art Education” (page 8), Jane Montero gives a broader overview of empathy in art than I have space for here. My focus in this letter has been to provide useful and meaningful resources for teachers and students.

Our studio lessons this month include “Growing Kindness Gardens” by Julia Hovanec (p. 32), in which early childhood students paint miniature gardens after reading Sophie Beer’s book Kindness Makes Us Strong.

At the elementary level, in “Wish Leaves” by Catherine and Pam Golden (p. 36), students write meaningful messages on handmade leaves, honoring the Celtic tradition of tying pieces of cloth as wishes on trees.

Melody Weintraub’s middle-school lesson “Talk with the Hand” (p. 34) connects wordplay with clay based on phrases or idioms that use the word hand.

In Cristina Pinton’s high-school lesson “Making a Scene” (p. 29), students stage theatrical photographs like scenes from a thriller or mystery, full of clues and details of emotionally rich, complex stories.

How will you and your students explore and express empathy through art?

View this article in the digital edition.