The self-reflective process of art making in quarantine


The students in Dan Jian’s Life Studies art class have had to adapt to distance learning in recent weeks, like numerous others across the university. While art making is generally an adaptive practice, the students’ limited access to supplies and lack of studio space while in quarantine meant that Jian had to pivot her plans for the last half of the semester. Yet, the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders across the country provided a unique opportunity for Jian and her students to channel their viewpoints into a creative process that resulted in the course’s final project, Quarantine Panorama.

“Art carries unique power in documentation and reflection,” said Jian, assistant professor in the School of Art. “When we, as instructors, are willing and conscious, art classes can play a significant and most unique role at a traumatic time to provide students with a safe, nurturing and inspiring place for learning and discovery.”

Art carries unique power in documentation and reflection.

The discovery of self-reflection was at the heart of the Quarantine Panorama project. Each student in the Life Studies class created a unique piece to document how their lives have transformed while in quarantine. Jian said her students have taken this unprecedented time to contemplate and create incredible work despite their varying levels of artistic experience.

“As [this project is the course’s] final, it is the largest and most time-consuming project of the semester,” said Jian. “But the feedback I have received from students is mostly appreciative for the opportunity…to work through their experiences. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.”

Jian’s teaching philosophy is partly focused on self-reflection. In the Life Studies course, which typically focuses on drawing, painting, figure or portrait modeling of live models, Jian encourages students to see how the subjects they study are relevant to their own lives.

“When I can help initiate connections between the students’ personal lives and school projects, we all benefit from a more engaging educational experience.”

Continuing to engage students in that way remains important to Jian. She hopes that the distance teaching experience helps other faculty members at TCU adopt self-reflection as a teaching strategy.

“I have witnessed how TCU has provided tremendous support during this global pandemic,” said Jian. “On top of providing an external support, part of the goal of our education is also to help our students grow to be independent thinkers and self-nurturing—characteristics that will benefit them beyond this year and beyond the time they’ve spent at TCU.”

To learn more about the School of Art, visit their website. Interested in taking an art course in the fall? Consider Creative Thinking and Making Stuff (ARST20970), a new class that will spend five weeks each in the areas of painting, printmaking and sculpture. This fun, interdisciplinary class, co-taught by Jian, Rachel Livendalen and Cameron Schoepp, welcomes beginners and non-majors for learning and discovery.