There’s a lot of debate around whether or not art teaches empathy. Some people say yes, art can create a more empathetic mindset; others say no, art only does this for individuals who already have high empathy. Whether or not you have an opinion on the matter, art is a great tool to practice empathetic thinking, especially for kids. Part of growing up is learning how to relate to others—how to understand different perspectives and respect different backgrounds. By exploring art museums and institutes, you’re able to open yourself up to these new identities and gain some insight into a life different from your own!
Take, for example, the exhibit currently on display at the Hoyt. Grit (by Rabecca Signoriello) is a collection of paintings depicting construction workers. Signoriello, who works on a road crew herself, says that some inspiration for the collection comes from how curious people are about the road workers. They’re always staring as they drive past yet, when caught staring, they always quickly look away. Signoriello says it’s this hesitancy to engage that interests her. With her paintings, she wants to create a space where people don’t have to hesitate—where they can comfortably study a scene that is usually too loud and chaotic for an outsider to try and understand. To promote viewer participation, most of the workers are looking directly at the viewer, as if to say, “Hi, you’re new here. Welcome to the crew.”
By painting such a life-like and engaging piece, Signoriello does a great job of creating a space for empathy. To walk around the exhibit and study the different pieces is like looking through a window into a construction zone—you can sense the brightness of the sky, the heat from the sun beating down on the workers, the sweat dripping from their foreheads. But this “construction zone” is perfect for you, who doesn’t know the first thing about construction zone safety, because it is ordered and quiet and there is no traffic. With her paintings, Signoriello gives you the chance to observe closely and find some similarities between yourself and the men and woman you see hard at work on the road.
Grit is a great exhibit to see, and also to take your kids to. Construction work is one of the professions that many people don’t get exposure to, as it is kind of “out of sight, out of mind” and when it is in sight, no one wants to be caught staring. But by looking at Signoriello’s art, you get an intimate and real view into the typical workday. This exercise educates you, and also fosters empathy—understanding another person’s way of living (including their profession and work day) is an important step in relating to them. This observant relatability is a great lesson to practice or teach.
Grit will be on display in the Hoyt’s main gallery until August 15th!