Express yourself: Intersession class focuses on art as 'something you do, not something you make'

Students paint during art therapy course

Image caption: Students paint while listening to music and create art influenced by different songs.

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Mix colors. Close your eyes. And paint.

Students strengthen their understanding of the fundamentals of art and develop practical skills through self-reflection in the Johns Hopkins University Intersession course titled "Art: Principles and Practices of Expressive Therapies."

Johns Hopkins alum Tatiana Nya Ford began teaching the personal enrichment course two years ago as a cognitive science student. She came up with the idea based on her experiences as an undergraduate who was passionate about art.

"[Art classes] were all really specific on how to do a certain thing. They didn't really give you much freedom," said Ford, who is now studying to be an expressive arts therapist. "As someone who thinks that individuality and creativity is so important, I wanted to offer that to students who felt like did not have that option while at Hopkins."

Each class focuses on different combinations of exercises and mediums. Students will use oil paints, pens, clay, wire, watercolors, and other media throughout the course's eight sessions. The goal is to foster creative freedom in a nonjudgmental environment, said Ford.

Sound also plays a key role in each class. Music plays while students work, which influences the way they move. Last week's class featured songs by FKA Twigs, an eclectic English singer and songwriter.

"Pay attention to how you want to move with or against the music," Ford said during a class meeting. "Think about the energy that you are putting out or pulling in."

Art class instructor gives student paint

Image caption: Tatiana Nya Ford, a Johns Hopkins University alumna who teaches an intersession art course, gives paint to a student before beginning an exercise.

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The class attracted students from all areas of the university. Some students purposefully sought out coursework that is completely different from their major.

Laura Chicos, a sophomore electrical engineering major, said her love for art, specifically painting, compelled her to sign-up for the course.

"I think it is like therapy because you can just let go, and do whatever you want, and be creative and use your imagination," she said, "which I don't get to do a lot in computer science."

For other students, the class serves as a time to self-reflect.

Becca Glowinski is a senior biomedical engineering major who said she has always loved arts and crafts. But being an engineering student, she said, does not leave time for expressing her creative side.

The course gives students a meditative atmosphere without the stress of homework, exams, or taking notes. Instead, it is meant to help students grow.

"I want this class to have the ability for students to have inter- and intrapersonal change—positive inter and intrapersonal change," Ford said, "so that as they're going through their classes and throughout life, they see art as something you do, and not something you make."