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1.1. Emancipating people through art

Welcome to the course Artistic Open Form in Art Education for the Deaf. The course is part of the project Horizon2020 AMASS, which explores the question of how visual art, art creation and art education develop people’s personalities, well-being, knowledge, education and the active production of culture. In AMASS, we work with people who are somehow special, different, but also unique and extraordinary. We have turned out attention to the often neglected but mighty area of human activity: art production. Art is an activity that helps us do, narrate and express something irrespective of the barriers that society, societal stereotypes, adverse circumstances and limited support put in our way.

To put it differently, art is an activity that aims towards emancipation. What does it mean? By emancipation, we understand freedom to decide, getting rid of dependence, powerlessness, and obtaining equal rights. It is also a form of power that people acquire when they start to take action and stop being afraid of saying or doing something. In this course, we will be guided towards this aim by the praxis of artistic open form and its application in education.

We have been inspired by the remarkable book of the French philosopher and aesthetician Jacques Rancière entitled Le maître ignorant (The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation). You will find a link in References.

In it, Rancière tells the life story of French literature teacher Joseph Jacotot in Leuven, presenting his unusual premises, along with his distinctive pedagogical method. We were particularly interested in the chapters Reason Between Equals and Mee Too, I am a Painter! Wait, how come that suddenly, I can be an artist or read books in French even though I do not know any? Because I want, I intend to do; and because “all wanting to do is a wanting to say and this wanting to say is addressed to any reasonable being (page 66, cited from Kristin Ross’ translation, Stanford edition). The basic takeaway from the book is that I do not wait for education but rather, I actively seize it wherever I find its source. Yes, the activity is on my side. If you want to learn more about the equality of different types of intelligence, intellectual emancipation, teaching methods and Jacques Rancière’s thinking, we recommend that you read the whole book, which we have listed in the literature section. The area of emancipation also includes artistic open form, to which Jan invites you in the introductory video and then again in his performance and the tasks in Unit 4.

There is yet another, unique feature of Lesson 1: getting to know the culture of the Deaf. Iva will tell you something about this topic in the introductory video. Later, you will also see the specifics of the communication of the Deaf in the art museum and all the things that an emancipated educator must prepare to deliver high quality education and art experience. Action research undertaken at the museum has demonstrated that an educator or a teacher may never be able to handle such a creative task alone. Here, equal cooperation among all the participants and an active will to create and communicate something together play a fundamental role. We can say with all seriousness that education for the 21st cannot function without cooperation; and that it is necessary to build an institutional background for functional communication between schools, galleries and museums. You may be interested in an article on this topic, A (Con) text for New Discourse as a Semiotic Practice, by Marie Fulkova and Teresa Tipton. You will find it in the section on specialist literature.

1.2. Off we go!

Two very creative and emancipated people will accompany you through the contents of Lesson 1: Iva, an art teacher for the Deaf, and Jan, who works as an artist, teacher and exhibition spaces and film architecture designer. Together with them and the children from a school for the Deaf, who are also the co-authors of the contents of Lesson 1, you will go to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. There, you will familiarise yourselves with gallery education and the exquisite beauty of Czech authorial glass. Then, you will go back to school and be assigned a series of interesting creative tasks, some of which will be also related to the study of the literature listed at the end of the lesson.

Jan and Iva are sending you their video greetings below.

Reflection 1.1

1.3. Communication, or how we understand each other?

In this part, you will set up a notebook to write down your ideas and notes. It will come in handy at the end of Lesson 1 when you go back through your notes and compare your thoughts at the beginning and at the end.

Do you know the saying “You are as many people as the languages you speak”? Have you heard and seen Jan and Iva speaking? Linguistically, it is quite demanding.

What languages does Jan speak? In addition to Czech, Jan speaks English, Slovak and German. Above all, though, he masters many artistic languages. In the video, he explains that he is a “multimedia” person: this means that he has mastered many “media”, or expressive languages of art. In the video, Jan turns around before his face stops in front of you. What do you think that means? What does his look mean, in your opinion? What language do you speak? Remember to record your answers in your notebook.

Our example response

 Jan speaks Czech. Czech is one of a series of West Slavic languages. It belongs to the group of Slavic languages and to the Indo-European language family. The first written records date back to the 12th century. Jan also speaks several art languages. He expresses his ideas through painting, drawing, graphic print, but also through 3D media, ceramics, sculpture and spatial design. Nowadays, he works mostly with the language of performance, which is an artistic medium close to theatrical forms but with a strong visual component.

Activity 1.1

Play the follow-up video with Iva. What if you saw only her image without the subtitles, would you understand it? What language is Iva speaking? Do you know what she is saying? Write your guess into the numbered box in your notebook. Read the video image again: what impression does Iva make on you? Write your other immediate ideas in your notebook and store them well.

Answer (Activity 1)

A written response opens in accordance with the numbers below

  1. Hearing
  2. Deaf
  3. Culture
  4. Education

Iva uses Czech sign language. Czech sign language is an artificially created system that uses signs in line with the grammar and rules of the Czech language.

We have one more task for you. Try to imitate Iva’s gestures in front of a mirror, or video them on your smartphone. It is probably not easy, is it to? Would you like to be able to speak the sign language used in your country?

You can share your ideas, messages and attempts to social media. We encourage students to use AMASS MOOC hashtag (#AMASSMOOC) to join our global socially engaged art community.

The last task is from the field of communication: imagine that Iva talks to you for an extended period. What or who do you need to understand her better? Write your answer to your own notebook. 

Additionally, you can also read about our experiences at the museum below.

Our experiences at the museum

As someone who is not hard of hearing, we were at a disadvantage when we took the deaf children to the museum. There were a lot of people speaking Czech sign language. We, hearing people, did not understand them at all and felt very silly. We needed two interpreters to be able to speak with the children and their teachers at the museum, and to share all the information with them. The interpreters had to take turns because interpreting is such a demanding activity. They took turns in different situations. We also needed a transcriber from sign language to Czech. The transcriber recorded all the communication for the deaf teacher, so that she was well acquainted with what the museum educator was saying to her pupils and to enable her to jump into the programme, too. She also needed the transcription for additional teaching after returning to school. The programme was demanding also for the educator without a speech impediment, who had to go through the programme with the interpreters and identified those challenging areas that would require additional attention (lighting, space, free space in the exhibition, specialist terminology).

If you want to find out more about sign language and education for the Deaf, you can look up the information on the internet. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the history of education for deaf children, you can peruse selected chapters from the book Deafness, Gesture and Sign Language by Josef Fulka in the Reference section.

Iva also recommends that you go to the following websites: Gallaudet University, Heriot Watt University or the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Dyer Arts Center

Literature for further study

Durr, P. (2000). Deconstructing the Forced Assimilation of Deaf People Via de’VIA Resistence and Affirmation Art. Rochester Institute of Technology.

Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Lane, H. (1999) Mask of Benevolence. Disabling the Deaf Community. Dawn Sign Press.

Pudans-Smith, K. K., Cue, K. R., Wolsey, J. A., & Clark, M. D. (2019). To Deaf or not to deaf: That is the Question. Psychology, 10, 2091-2114.


Credits & References


Video 1: Hi, my name is Jan  

Video 2: Hi, my name is Iva

Video 3: Do you see what I mean?  (Activity 1)


Fulka, J. (2020). Deafness, Gesture, and Sign Language in the 18th Century French Philosophy. Vol. 8 in the Gesture Studies series, edited by Adam Kendon. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Rancière, J. (1991) Le maître ignorant. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Translated, with an Introduction, by Kristin Ross. Stanford University Press. Stanford, California.

Fulková, M.; Tipton, T. (2008), A (Con)text for New Discourse as Semiotic Praxis.  The International Journal of Art and Design Education, 2008, 27, č. 1.  pp. 27-42.