As a result of my research experience, I rid myself of expectations, allowing for the process of creation to take priority over predetermined results. I realized the importance of both play and control in animation, and the agency it provides creators when working with self-representation and time. Time emerged as one of the most important aspects of animation; it functions as a tool for communication, and also emotional and linguistic literacy. Another invaluable aspect of animation is the utility that results from the process itself--repetitive, meditative movements that evoke commitment, focus, and often collaboration. The most satisfying result of my research is facilitating the feeling of magical experience, of creating something out of nothing, the feeling of putting together hundreds of still images and creating movement. It is an experience incomparable to any other medium or form of art.
As a researcher, I found myself in an unique position--on one hand, I was a silent objective observer, on the other, I have experienced the wonderful therapeutic benefits of animation myself and wanted to share them with others. Normally, I find it hard to position myself as an authority, but in this case, because of my lived experience as an animator, educator, and most importantly, an immigrant, I can confidently attest to the potential value of this art form for immigrant communities. In my case, moving from another country at a young age, leaving friends and family behind, having to assimilate, learn to communicate in a new language, and navigate new culture, coupled with uncertainty of my family’s permanent resident’s status often created extremely stressful situations and impacted my well-being. I know that many of my students, who are either immigrants themselves or whose families are affected by immigration policies are facing similar realities. For them, animation can become a tool of storytelling and communication; a proverbial microphone enabling them to represent themselves with confidence and to take control of their narrative; an escape from the problems of everyday life. Through my research I discovered that therapeutic approaches do not necessarily apply to pathological situations and, moreover, students, without mental health issues or diagnosis, can benefit from the approaches. For many of those students, playful distraction and experimentation facilitates a trusting relationship with the teacher—often one of the few adults they can depend on—that can lead to healthy outcomes and improve their overall well-being.
Through conversations with professionals in the fields of education and art therapy, I deepened my belief that the process of animating can be beneficial and therapeutic within itself; furthermore, it is the combination of the inherent qualities of the digital time based mediums, and, most importantly, the relationship between the student and the teacher that leads to positive outcomes in education. “The space in between”, as referred to by Ha Tran, is created by the teachers’ student-centered attitude and their care for the students as human beings as well as their equals. Reflectively, I now understand the idea of therapeutic qualities of animation as perspective-centered, rather than research-centered and as every educator’s personal teaching philosophy.
Based on my students’ enthusiasm, the positive outcomes of all of my animation projects, and the overwhelming interest from educators, art therapists, and community members, I encourage other animators and teachers to incorporate animation into their art curricula. Because of my own experiences as a young immigrant, my research is focused on immigrant-related groups and issues; however, I believe animation’s benefits can also be easily translated to a variety of different situations and affect a broad range of students, families, and even educators, themselves.
I encourage educators to make conscious decisions of understanding and incorporating therapeutic techniques in their classroom. Often, the word “therapeutic”, because of its proximity to the medical field, deters people from learning how it can apply in their profession, but I believe it could significantly impact the well-being of our students. As a matter of semantics and fluid terminology, I encourage teachers to look past the traditional definitions and focus on all ways we can help our students be the happiest and most successful they can be.
Recommendations for Teachers
While I want my students to understand the theory of animation, they learn best with the “hands-on” and “trial and error” approaches. Keeping PowerPoints and lectures to the minimum and learning from practice is not only motivating, but also allows the students to teach each other (which is especially important in environments where student attendance is inconsistent).
Often, the reality of working with students at after-school programs and non-profit community organizations might be challenging. With the lack of financial support, equipment, and staff, along with the students non-consistent participation, following regular teaching curriculum might be almost impossible. Those teaching situations require flexibility and open-mindedness. Ridding oneself of expectations when it comes to particular outcomes, deadlines, or student engagement might benefit both teachers and students in a long-term projects.
Because animation process can be tedious and time consuming, pairing it with other processes, like set and costume design, documentation, music production, etc., is a productive way of keeping participants engaged. Letting them choose their activity, based on their interests, might be a great tool for initiating trust between students and educators.
Giving students agency through freedom of creating their own worlds and making their own decisions in terms of what stories they tell, how they represent themselves and others, and how their characters move, can be one of the most powerful tools of teaching and relationship-building. Giving them that kind of control, while attentively helping when necessary, is one of the most important building blocks of mutual trust, which in turn, leads to creating fruitful and beneficial learning environments.
Questions to be further developed:
How can animations workshops be sustainable? Can they be continued after I leave? How do I resolve the issue of unavailable equipment (not many after-school programs and nonprofits have enough funding for cameras and tablets)?
What are some methods of engaging "non-artistic" participants, who might be reluctant to open up creatively? Many of my students did not have previous art classes or experiences? How do I encourage them? How do I create relevant learning content for student with various experiences and skillsets?
How can I evaluate long-term outcomes of any type of animation workshop? Is it important for me as an educator to know the extend of therapeutic benefits of the workshops on participating students?
What other disciplines can be incorporated in animation teaching curricula? What are benefits of incorporating music, theater, and other art mediums?
- How can incorporating topics of current social and political events relevant to students be therapeutic? How can I establish trust and enable students to open up early on?