SLOW LOOKING AND EMPATHY WITH KENIA SANTOS
Today I’m delighted to be talking to Kenia Santos – an educator based in Brazil with specialisations and interests in art history, philosophical inquiry, social and emotional learning, thinking routines and slow looking.
We discuss how she uses thinking routines in her work to encourage and develop slow looking, how she keeps her teenage students engaged for 3 hours (!) in her art classes and how we can develop empathy through slow looking.
Kenia is a passionate educator, slow looking enthusiast and a self-described art history nerd; a cat lover, free spirit and a friendly soul. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
[00:00:03.530] – Claire
Hi, Kenia. Welcome to the Art Engager podcast.
[00:00:07.790] – Kenia
Hi, Claire. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
[00:00:11.270] – Claire
It’s lovely to have you here. So can you tell me where in the world you are right now and where you’re recording this from?
[00:00:19.910] – Kenia
I’m based in Brazil. This is where I live and was born and never left. I’ve never left the country, actually. So I’m in Brazil right now. Pretty cool morning, rainy.
[00:00:34.730] – Claire
Sounds like you’ve got very similar weather to Amsterdam right now. So delighted to have you here all the way from Brazil. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about your work, the work that you do and your passions and interests. So perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
[00:00:58.830] – Kenia
So I’m a pedagogist, educator and a materials writer here in Brazil. I have specialisations in art history, philosophy, creative education, and contemporary visual arts, because, yes, I love studying. Some of my passions are reading. I think probably the biggest passion of mine is this. I’m an avid reader of comics, science fiction books, art history and all things about education in art and art education. So, mostly reading.
[00:01:37.350] – Claire
And what would you do in your day job right now?
[00:01:42.270] – Kenia
Right now, I am currently teaching fine art to high school freshman students in a very specific context, CLIL (CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning) context – meaning that I teach full integration of language across the subject. My students’ mother-tongue is Portuguese, as you may know, and they study for a top-up programme for a high school diploma, most of them because they intend to take up college abroad. So that’s my current position in a school year.
[00:02:14.490] – Claire
Can you tell us a little bit about how art can help us to develop language skills, to develop a new language that we’re learning?
[00:02:44.770] – Kenia
So I teach in this CLIL (CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning) context, meaning that right at the beginning of every class, students, they have some contact with the language, like grammar and vocabulary, especially the grammar and vocabulary. They are going to need to operate in the class that day. And then right after that, we jump into the content. I work with inquiry-based and project-based teaching units that give the students the chance to go discover and explore answers to questions related to aesthetics, philosophy, and sociology of art.
[00:03:20.290] – Kenia
In my classes, I’ve been lucky enough to have been given freedom to organise the course, so I planned it as I saw fit. I used this latitude to negotiate the curriculum with the students, so they have plenty of space to become independent thinkers, critical information, getters who question and interpret what they find. External evidence based conclusions. All of these while you’re using English as a means of communication.
[00:03:53.450] – Claire
Oh, it sounds absolutely fascinating. And do you use? Well, I think I know the answer to this, but how do you use thinking routines in your work?
[00:04:03.230] – Kenia
Well, every class, when we are about to jump into the content, every class begins with the class meeting that we call ‘Art in Session‘. And then during this meeting they share what’s hot in the art world, basically any art-related news they have read the previous week that resonated with them. Everyone listens and share thoughts and questions, and these make great food for our projects. For all the projects that we developed. We have worked on a few favourite projects in the past. There was this piece of news about how restaurants seat ugly people at the back.
[00:04:40.730] – Kenia
This led us to investigate the representation of beauty at the Times. There was this other piece of news on Nazi-looted art that took us to a virtual trip to the Anne Frank Museum and an unforgettable and great project based on that. And there was also an exploration of elements and principles of art and all the art history memes they are familiar with. And this was the foundation for another excellent learning experience of what happens to a person where they become a meme
so because my audience is most of teenagers, one would imagine it’s good to keep them engaged, especially teaching remotely, as I’m doing right now, but it actually isn’t. Well, guess what. I teach three hour lessons.
So as I told you, we usually begin with the ‘Art in Session‘ and then we spend circa 40 to 50 minutes engaged in slow looking. This is when I use thinking routines with visual, plastic and graphic art. The students they are encouraged to suggest art that catches their eyes as well. They can bring it to class or mail it to me in advance when they bring the artwork of their choice.
[00:06:19.490] – Kenia
I also let them choose whether they would or wouldn’t like to facilitate a discussion. What we do is I keep these visual routine cards close by so they can select the (thinking) routine they like best or that feels like fits best the artwork they have. Of course not everyone chooses to facilitate, but everybody listens attentively and this is an activity they love doing.
[00:06:48.230] – Claire
It sounds like they have an awful lot of choice and agency in the classroom that they’re able to follow their curiosity and their wonder. Would I be right in thinking that you use that as a tool for engaging them?
[00:07:05.630] – Kenia
Definitely. Funnily enough, they seem to have the best of their time in class when they are exploring paintings, I make it a thing to bring something that is going to be challenging for them, something that I look at, and I think. Okay. I bet they are going to miss this one spot. And this is going to make all the difference. And it really does. It makes all the difference in the end, when there is this one person that actually spots the thing I thought nobody was going to see.
[00:07:41.570] – Kenia
And then when all of them discovered this piece that was there all the time and nobody noticed before, they have so much fun with it. And for them, it’s always a new lesson, the importance of paying attention, paying close attention to what they look at.
[00:08:00.530] – Claire
Exactly.Because no two classes would ever be the same, because you’re always noticing new details and new things.
[00:08:05.990] – Kenia
[00:08:08.610] – Claire
And have you noticed how they’ve developed their slow looking over time?
[00:08:14.010] – Kenia
Well, they get better at it, for sure. And in every class where they begin with slow looking, and then later on in class, they engage into the formal analysis of other works, and it sort of improves the kind of detail they add to the formal analysis. When it’s time for them to work on them, this for sure, they tell me. And I find it funny. The other day there was this one student who said, by the end of the class, I always ask them questions such as, ‘how can we use the knowledge we gain in class today outside the classroom’?
[00:08:53.230] – Kenia
And then there was this one student who said, ‘Well, the knowledge we gain here. It sort of helps me understand that I should move past first impressions. When I first meet a person‘. I found it was so important, because it’s exactly that it’s not just about the painting, but it’s about everything you look at. Right?
[00:09:21.430] – Claire
Absolutely. And slow looking you can take beyond the classroom, beyond looking at art into your everyday life. And I know I’ve talked about that on the podcast before, and I’ve seen you talking about that on your Instagram account as well. So could you give me an example, perhaps, of some slow looking activities that you do with your students to keep them engaged? Maybe a couple of examples.
[00:09:47.570] – Kenia
I like the simple ones – See Think Wonder– because even though it’s simple, there is always something to be said about it. I love to ask the students to consider what the person’s thoughts or feelings might be in the painting. So they can draw speech-bubbles or thought-bubbles when we are at the computer. Of course, they can draw this on the painting and then write inside them.
I like to ask them what title they would give a painting before they actually see what the official title is.
[00:10:47.010] – Kenia
We love to think of the stories, the beginning, ending, and middle if this is part of the story, if this is the middle of the story, what came first. What comes next? You know? Yeah.
[00:11:01.890] – Claire
One of my favourites.
[00:11:03.330] – Kenia
Yeah. I love that. It’s all those students. Let me see what else we do.
[00:11:10.350] – Claire
I think you mentioned once that Unveiling Stories is one of your favourites.
[00:11:15.330] – Kenia
Yes, I totally love that. I love the connections they make, especially the connections with the larger stories, with the stories of the world, especially because we work with inquiry based learning. So very often they have to derive problems or situations they are aware of in the world to work with. And they derive these from the paintings they look at.
[00:11:58.350] – Kenia
So paintings and photographs work a lot with photographs as well, not just photography as a means of art, but also photos they look at on the news. And sometimes they get some fans on the WhatsApp groups or things they see online on Instagram. So we often look at this and think about the especially when we are looking at photographs. We think about what it is that the photo doesn’t show what is the hidden story. We love to think about the hidden stories, because when a photographer takes a photo, he chooses what to include.
[00:12:41.550] – Kenia
So why does he take this decision or how does he make this decision? How does he choose what to go and what to leave out? And this is always a fascinating conversation we have in class.
[00:12:56.790] – Claire
Thank you for sharing about your favourite thinking routines and obviously they are ones I use a lot. And I came to Unveiling Stories through your suggestion. I remember you shared about it on your Instagram, and I thought, oh, I haven’t tried Unveiling stories yet. So you spurred me on to go and try that for the first time, and I could see the possibilities and how flexible it is and how many different types of materials you can use it with. And we did. We had a fascinating discussion using it.
[00:13:25.050] – Claire
So thank you for that. I’d like to move on if we can, to talk a little bit about empathy because you’re going to be doing a class for us for Thinking Museum in November. And we’ll talk about that in a moment. But first, can we talk a little bit about what is empathy, why empathy is important, and specifically how we might develop it through slow looking.
[00:13:52.890] – Kenia
Okay, so not my words, but Krznaric is a scholar, an empathy scholar. And in his word, he describes empathy as “the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide our actions“.
[00:14:17.950] – Kenia
And from all the definitions I’ve seen before, I like his the best, because this is exactly what I believe input you should be, to take that leap to experience other person’s feelings, and then another thing he says, is that we are hardwired to care, but we still need to be taught how to develop and practise empathy and how to live it.
[00:14:49.330] – Kenia
One of the reasons why I like to work with empathy in the classroom is because I truly believe it makes us aware of other people’s emotions and wishes and intentions. And this awareness is something that we need to take control of if we want to interact with the people we encounter in the world skillfully.
[00:15:13.690] – Kenia
I believe that slow looking as a practice fits perfectly with empathy or the development of empathy because it gives us all the chance and all the chances we need to move past those impressions and read new answers and subtext and social space and thoughts and interactions and the relational behaviours between different people in the painting or different subjects in a photograph, for example.
[00:15:43.150] – Kenia
So I think that the two things they go together, we actually have a thinking routine, right. Step inside is a thinking routine that encourages slow looking and is another one I really like using with my students in class, but I think that this is why they go together because to develop empathy towards someone you need to observe, you need to be watchful. You need to be willing and open to understand the other person to understand what you see and what you don’t see in the others.
[00:16:30.170] – Claire
I completely agree. And I think that developing sort of that perspective-taking, which can then lead to empathy, is so so important and spending time with an image or looking at an object or looking at a photograph or an artwork and really spending time looking and observing and then thinking about feelings and thoughts. It’s a skill and it’s something that we need to work at and something that we need to develop and also something that’s rarely taught. Is it these days?
[00:17:04.550] – Kenia
Exactly. And I find it funny that people, I think that this is something with the modern world. I think that we spend very little time, for example, you were talking about Instagram. We spent very little time actually looking at the things we see on Instagram, looking at the images we see most of the times they’re just scrolling down or up the screen and we don’t take the time to just stop and look at all those things that we have there we look and we don’t see. And I think that this is a characteristic with the modern world, very little patience to just look at things and see them for what they are.
[00:17:55.710] – Kenia
[00:17:56.010] – Claire
I totally agree with you again. It’s an age of scanning and skimming and scrolling, and actually to spend that time with an artwork or a photograph is just so worthy of our time these days and actually helps us to slow down and focus and concentrate and really sort of counteracts that feeling of distraction that we have all the time that we need to be constantly looking for something and still looking, I think, is really helpful in that regard. So tell me about your class that you’re going to be doing.
[00:18:36.150] – Claire
You’re going to be teaching for Thinking Museum on the 9 November. Tell me a little bit about what you’ll be doing in that class and what we’ll be learning.
[00:18:45.330] – Kenia
I’m super excited about the opportunity to teach this mastery class at the Thinking Museum. In this masterclass, I’ll talk a little bit about empathy and its competences because there are nine and not all of them can be easily worked best through slow looking, but some of them are. So everyone that joins us will get to know which ones we can develop through slow looking and how I will be sharing if your practical ideas and participants will also have the chance to make use of an empathy map in case they haven’t before.
[00:19:26.250] – Kenia
Well, I doubt in this context because even if a person has used an empathy map before, maybe not with the painting, so they will have this chance to use it to empathise and synthesise these observations made of artworks and photographs in slow motion. So that’s what I have for you.
[00:19:49.330] – Claire
I’m so excited about it as well. I can’t wait. We teach perspective-taking and empathy on my VTMO, my ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum Online’ course. But actually, I’m so looking forward to your masterclass because we’re going to go that little bit deeper and we’re going to spend 90 minutes on the subject as well. So looking forward to that. And I’ll put a link in the show notes for everyone. If you want to find out more about the class or book a place. So thank you so much for this conversation today.
[00:20:19.390] – Claire
I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you. I’m really looking forward to the masterclass, but in the meantime, how can listeners find out more about you or reach out to you?
[00:20:30.490] – Kenia
Well, I’m mostly on Instagram these days so everybody can find me there or if you like it, you can drop me a line and my email. I would be more than glad to hear from whoever wants to talk to me.
[00:20:54.970] – Claire
That would be fantastic. And I highly recommend people follow you on Instagram as you share some wonderful artworks paired with superb questioning, great thinking routines. And you always share a brilliant read of the week as well. I’ve got so many great book recommendations from you. So do go follow Kenia there and I’ll put a link in the shownotes as well. And that just leaves me the time to say thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today and for chatting with us. Thanks, Kenia. Bye.
MASTERCLASS: HOW TO DEVELOP EMPATHY THROUGH SLOW LOOKING
An in-demand ability in today’s increasingly narcissistic world, empathy is the core of everything that makes a society civilised, and even though we are hardwired to care, we need to be taught how to develop, practice and live it.
This interactive, 90 minute masterclass with guest teacher Kenia Santos on Tuesday 09 November at 17.00 hrs (CET – AMSTERDAM) invites you to understand empathy and it’s 9 competencies and how you can develop these competencies through slow looking at art.
Conversations about art engage people from diverse backgrounds in thoughtful listening, mutual respect and open-minded dialogue, supporting their imagination, exploration and immediate experience of empathy.
By the end of this masterclass, participants will:
understand empathy and its competencies;
make use of an Empathy Map to empathise and synthesise observations made of artworks and photographs considering their complexities;
recognise how looking at art can encourage the exploration and cultivation of our individual and collective senses of empathy.