The Day Course: Using real-life materials to help foster self-reflection

Leah ThompsonStaff Writer

Nobel Conference 58 happened on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and Thursday, Sept. 29, and focused on “mental health disparities and their effects on youth, with a particular emphasis on the significance of identity, trauma and technology.” This Nobel was broken into four different sessions, each exploring different topics related to mental health inequities and young people. 

During the conference multiple workshops were held, including one titled Mental Health and the Visual Language, presented by Associate Professor of Art and Art History, Kristen Lowe.

Professor Lowe’s workshop focused on artwork from Professor Lowe’s class “The Day Course,” which she has taught for many years. The workshop dove into the details of The Day Course and how each semester’s topics vary from one another based on what the students decide on.

In addition to a lecture on her course, Lowe also provided many examples of student artwork that her students had made in The Day Course in past semesters. 

The Day Course is a class that Professor Lowe helped co-create many years ago with the intention of focusing on internal aspects of the students’ lives. The course allows students to focus on their emotional inner life and things that are important to them.

“Rather than handing down critical theory to them, I promote their capabilities to topics [or concepts] that my students are interested in,” Lowe said.

While many art classes give students typical materials to create their pieces, students in The Day Course are encouraged to use materials that they see in everyday life.

Although The Day Course is one of the requirements for the Art Studio major, the class is open to all students at Gustavus and covers the ARTSC general education requirement. It’s a class that allows students to communicate through visuals.

The first day of the class involves all of the students coming together and brainstorming concepts that they’d be interested in creating art about. With concept lists reaching upwards of 100 items, the students must collectively decide which four concepts they would like to focus on for the semester.

This semester Professor Lowe’s students in The Day Course have four projects. The topics for this semester include The Day of Nostalgia, The Day of Bullshit, The Day of Demons, and The Day of Dreams.

For The Day Course, students are tasked to complete individual research on contemporary artists that generally are doing work on the class’ chosen topics.

Students in this course learn how to develop an active voice and self-accountability through self-reflection and their openness to public critique.

Professor Lowe’s workshop about The Day Course and the mental health crisis that many young people are facing tied in perfectly with Nobel 58: Mental Health (In)Equity and Young People.

Art allows students, especially those taking this course, to express themselves while also fostering a sense of self-realization that’s embedded into materials. 

“Art gives people an opportunity to have an expansive amount of time for self-reflection. It’s not just self-expression, its self-realization embedded into materials,” Professor Lowe said.

In the past students have created various forms of art, with one particular example being a Day Course student who had a table set up on campus that allowed students to write something that caused them pain. This project, which was for “The Day of Pain,” allowed students to anonymously admit some of their deepest emotions onto paper without worrying about judgment from others.

“[I want] my students to seek to support one another by creating a safe environment, with no judgment. It’s important to hear how people [decide] what’s most important to them,” Lowe said.