Artfully Learning to Transcend Isolation

“This is an Accepted Manuscript (AM) version of the following article, accepted for publication in Art Education. Citation: Adam Zucker (2021) Artfully Learning to Transcend Isolation, Art Education, 74:6, 42-43, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2021.1928467. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.” 

Scan of my article “Artfully Learning to Transcend Isolation” published in Art Education.

I am pleased to say that I have been published in Art Education, the official journal of the National Art Education Association (NAEA)!

My article, “Artfully Learning to Transcend Isolation,” is included in the November 2021 issue (volume 74 no.6, pp. 42–43). The article describes how and why I initially developed Artfully Learning, and how, after the pandemic hit, I have been usisng this blog as a platform to help others cope with and navigate the world of remote art learning (see my page Social Distance Learning for a variety of resources and lesson ideas for teaching and learning in this remote and hybrid classroom era).

Below is a copy of the final manuscript, which was selected for publication in the journal. You can view a black and white photograph of the actual article above (albeit, too small to actually read!). The published article is accessible to anyone with an NAEA account.


Engaging in art, whether via creating, teaching, viewing, or discussing, is a socially conscious and embodied action. Therefore, in the wake of numerous art museums, schools, and the culture at large temporarily shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I were in uncharted territory. Our thoughts and actions shifted to maintaining and growing our practices in light of the significant disruptions related to the global health crisis, as well as the social and environmental injustices that have major implications on our communities. Prior to our collective quarantining, loneliness was already on the rise, with an overwhelming number of individuals experiencing relationships that they considered unmeaningful (Novotney, 2019). Although the past year has been very trying, I have experienced a silver lining, which is the solace and wisdom of a broad network of educators and artists across the world. In the extended time I am spending online, I have discovered unique opportunities to collaboratively learn, develop craft, and share resources that are helpful to overcoming the isolation of physical distancing. I have also adjusted my art and pedagogical methodologies to incorporate digital media and virtual platforms where I can share my work and find inspiration from others who are writing, creating, and teaching online. 

As I was gaining experience in the classroom, I launched Artfully Learning, a blog that explores examples of contemporary art that have symbolic learning capabilities inside and outside the classroom. The initial impetus for this project was to find my comfort zone in approaching topics related to teaching and learning, but it has evolved into a resource that helps a variety of individuals think about integrating contemporary art practices into their curriculum. So when the pandemic became an omnipresent force in our lives, I knew I had a platform to contribute to the discourse of navigating the realities of remote art education.

I have come to realize that social distancing can be an art movement and an educational experience. The nature of social distancing is to exhibit empathy so that we can collectively minimize the risk of people becoming sick. We are keeping a physical distance because we care about ourselves and value others. Wearing masks, crafting our own forms of PPE, and making sure to keep at least 6 feet apart when interacting with others has become a performative and artistic action. I envision it as a type of relational artwork that explores avenues for social, cultural, and political change through collaborations with other individuals, communities (including our classrooms), and institutions (including our schools). As an educator and artist, I am inspired by Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture; John Dewey’s philosophy of learning via experience; and Paulo Freire (1970) and bell hooks’ (1994) models of critical thinking as a way to become liberated from negative social, cultural, and emotional forces.  Each of these influences reflect how an artist works to “transform and reshape the conditions, thinking, and structures that shape and inform our lives” (Beuys quoted in White, 2014). Freire (1970) succinctly reflects our current moment and how we can transcend feelings and experiences in isolation:

“Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world.” (p. 81)

Thankfully, digital media offers us a variety of resources for connecting and collaborating with our peers while observing and enacting physical distancing.The most rewarding thing about being an education blogger is seeing people reading, sharing, and citing my work as a resource to inspire their own academic, professional, and/or personal development. Artfully Learning has been linked on professional development forums and school resource platforms and I couldn’t be more honored to know that educators are sharing my writing and resources with their colleagues and students. I get feedback from teachers, graduate students, and professional artists, and have consulted with them in the form of classroom visits, studio visits, and workshops. Now that virtual conversations have taken precedence, I have actually been able to expand my network and have started collaborating on art education and mental health related endeavors with an artist from the United Kingdom. We are currently developing a platform that will support mental health communities through art-centered projects and the presentation of artists exploring mental health conditions.

My favorite aspect of education is that it never ceases to make an impact on our lives. The same can be said about art and visual culture. We have a holistic desire to learn, develop new skills, and make our mark on the world around us. How we share the excitement around our thirst for knowledge and how we work creatively and compassionately with others will determine our path as a society.  Educational programming and curricula need to be fluid and accessible, in order to reflect the diversity of the communities and student bodies it serves. All students should have access to resources that nourish the mind, body, and spirit. The arts do this by giving students a means for personal expression, and fostering a sense of self and collective values. Everyone has the ability to think and perform in an artful manner, despite their technical skills. The arts strengthen our ability to be open-minded and make judgements in the absence of clear cut solutions. Eisner (2004) asserted that the arts teach us to be flexible and adapt to situations by allowing for creative and social processes to take precedence over any predetermined notions of product. In this day and age of unknowns and uncertainties, it is the critical and creative thinking we acquire from art education, which will keep us innovating and responding to problems in an empathetic manner. Artists have definitely answered the call by  making and donating masks for essential workers and leading therapeutic art making workshops for remote participants. 

Being critical thinkers, astute observers, and empathic responders is as important as ever. The arts teach us to employ these social, emotional, and cognitive facets and project them out into the world. Although we might not be able to meet face to face due to our adherence to quarantines and physical distancing; digital methods of communication can have a similar and even greater impact on our understanding of one another. Under quarantine, I have actually been more social and eager to participate in activities and collaborative endeavors. Digital communication has enabled me to broaden my relationships to artists and educators who I have not had a chance to meet in person. These bonds and relationships will be even stronger when we are able to safely congregate once more.

Citations/Works Referenced: 

Eisner, E. (2004). The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale University Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Herder and Herder.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Transgress. Routledge.

Novotney, A. (2019). The risks of social isolation. Monitor on Psychology, 50(5), 32.

White. C. (Ed.) (2014). Community Education for Social Justice. Springer.


  1. An interesting and well considered approach to art and learning through contactless times. I run a small monthly writing critique group, which we have done through Zoom (or similar) throughout lockdown (Auckland New Zealand), and last year I contributed to a sketch group who were encouraged to post daily work. It was a great forum, and focus. Cheers, Vivienne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vivienne, what kinds of writing has your Zoom group focused on? I’m glad you’re both finding and creating safe spaces to develop your craft and give a platform for others to do so as well! Cheers!


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