Material and Media Exploration for Students with Disabilities: An Interview with Victor Tan

A picture of Victor Tan with one of his wire sculptures

Artist Victor Tan works on one of his wire sculptures.

Singapore-based visual artist and art educator Victor Tan recently presented a session at the 2015 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference on material and media exploration in art-making for students with disabilities. In this interview, Tan, who is visually impaired, discusses his process for guiding students in their search for a creative medium. He also offers suggestions on how to incorporate everyday objects and recycled materials into art-making lessons for students with disabilities.

VSA: How do you guide students as they search for a medium in art-creation? What factors contribute to the process? Do you recommend a more student-led or educator-driven approach?

Victor Tan: I usually divide my lessons into three parts. The first part is exploration. Encourage and allow the students to explore one material by themselves. This is to allow the students’ natural talents to surface without interference from others. As Picasso said, “All children are born an artist.” Normally more than half of them can figure it out.

The second part is sharing. This allows those students who can do it through their own explorations to share with everyone. Sharing offers the students many examples from the class. Instead of one idea from a teacher, they now get a variety.

The third part of my lesson is guidance. For those who still can’t identify a preferred medium at this stage, I would then come in to help and guide them. This is to make sure that no one is left behind. Usually, just guiding them on a one-to-one basis and holding their hands through the processes gives them more confidence and skill to develop the ability to make art by themselves.

VSA: What media do you recommend introducing to students with disabilities as they experiment with art-making? Do you offer many options at once, or explore one at a time?

Victor Tan: Less is good. I prefer to use as few as possible. There are different needs for different disabilities. A non-toxic material that does not present any danger to the students and which the students can manage all by themselves are good options for explorations. I usually give them one medium at a time, and allow them time to go through the process.

VSA: How do everyday objects and recycled items contribute to your approach in teaching art-making to students with disabilities? What sorts of recycled/everyday items do you use, and how do you use them?

Victor Tan: The use of everyday objects and recycled items makes art more accessible to the students. They are inexpensive and one could get ahold of these items fairly easily. I use used paper, disposable cups and plates, forks and spoons, wires, water, masking tape, etc. and encourage the students to explore what they can make with them.

VSA: Does your use of recycled or everyday items accompany any sort of environmental education or awareness for the students? Do you discuss the value of using recycled items in art-making with the students?

Victor Tan: I do not stress the topic. My objective is primarily to let them enjoy the process of art making.

VSA: What sort of outcomes do you often see with the students?

Victor Tan: After some classes, the students definitely are more open to trying, touching new materials, and learning to overcome their fear in exploring new mediums.

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