Creative Lunch 2: Empathy

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Aine Venables (L5 Illustration lecturer) is researching how student and staff co-creation and definitions of ‘empathy’ can support outcomes in practical work.  During our second ‘creative lunch’ of the series (and the first held in our lovely Research Space) we had the opportunity to discuss ideas of empathy and how the concept could be of value to our students.

The research structure has been developed using a model of Practitioner-led Action Research, but adapting this framework as students here are co-researchers and the group as a whole will be co-producers of knowledge, defining ideas of empathy both as individuals and as a collective whole.

The research also differs from standard action research models as it brings together aspects of practice-based research, considering, for example as how students ‘show’ empathy and explore ideas within their visual communications. Sometimes this is simple; the choice of material (tracing paper to show a ‘foggy’ day, which acts as a visual metaphor for a particular mood), sometimes ideas of empathy can be more complex, or take on broader social meanings.

During the discussion, Aine showed us (or, at least, tried to show us – tech was not feeling sympathetic):
The power of Outrospection RSA Animate

The Empathy Museum

The Empathy Library

A lively discussion around the topic considered how ‘empathy’ could be viewed as something that supports our considering a situation or idea from multiple perspectives, how an understanding of the term could lead to real social and cultural change, and how it is an ‘idea from the creative gap’. We considered ideas such as an ‘empathy wheel’, how empathy is fostered from dialogue and conversation and the juxtaposition of ideas.


We then moved to the context of the curriculum, considering how it might be used within different curricula and how diaries and journals can both define and determine empathy. Aine has selected two student co-researchers who will be sharing their journal entries as part of the research project.We looked, too, at how the concept of empathy differs from ‘sympathy’, and its role in how we view and evaluate visual art.

Finally, we thought about how ideas of empathy might be related to ideas of connoisseurship, paying attention in a particular way, living ‘in the moment’ and the ideas of Richard Sennett, philosopher and author of ‘The Craftsman’.

Aine has asked to return and share her research finding with us in June, and it will be fascinating to see how the project unfolds. Many thanks to Aine for hosting such an exciting session, and to everyone involved in what was an absorbing and pertinent discussion.

*Follow up*
Following our discussion, Aine has been in email contact with Roman Krznaric, who recommended this excellent broadcast of a panel discussion regarding ‘the artist as activist‘ he recently participated in. Well worth a listen!

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