Originally posted June 2011

Having been involved in art education for many years, I became aware of the Istanbul Center (IC) during a Georgia Art Education Association (GAEA) conference several years ago. Representatives of the organization participated in the conference with an educational presentation of the IC’s cultural and educational mission and invited art educators at the middle and high school levels for students to participate in an art contest. The IC art contest themes over the past several years have been directed toward building bridges for greater understanding, empathy, and compassion toward others.

The works submitted by middle and high school students have increased in number and quality each year. Many of the student art works displayed a thoughtful and reflective attitude toward the theme. The meaning of the students’ work was made more clear by the artist’s statement affixed to each artwork.

The artwork in Figure 1 is by Michelle Partogi, a high school student of Jennifer Price at Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Georgia. She won 2nd place in the Georgia 2010–2011 IC Art Contest and 3rd place at the Southeastern level. Part of her artist statement is included below:

I began by analyzing “walking in another’s shoes” down to its bare minimum. The idiom playfully reminds us to imagine a situation from another person’s standpoint, and I based my graphic design’s slogan to combat the reason people are so fixed on seeing only through their eyes.

After repeatedly being chastised for pulling all-nighters, I concluded,“It’s been forever since my Mom was a student. She can’t possibly understand what I have to go through with high school.” However if I look at it from her point of view, she would naturally be concerned when viewing her daughter’s health diminishing because of school projects. In this situation, I initially deemed our age gap as the reason we couldn’t see eye to eye. However, once I empathized with my mom, I grew to understand her motives, opinions, and dilemma.

“We look different … we see the same” emphasize that regardless of physical differences, people have the ability to empathize with one another. My slogan plays on the parallelism and double meaning of “look” and “see.” The two words can be synonymous. However, in this instance “look” refers to the appearance while “see” relates to situational viewpoint. I desired to concentrate on the theme of “viewing,” so my design centers around three pairs of eyes staring intently at the viewer, seemingly with something to say.

The top winners of the art contest were invited to participate in a dialogue trip to Turkey for 7–10 days accompanied by their teachers and IC representatives. What a great way to encourage the development of understanding between people! The fact that the IC representatives are attending art education conferences and reaching out to art teachers in their efforts to connect broadly and dialogue positively with the art education community encouraged my further involvement with the Istanbul Center’s cultural and educational programs.

One of the opportunities provided by the Istanbul Center (IC) was the possibility of a “Dialogue trip” to Turkey for those interested in furthering their knowledge and appreciation of Turkey, its peoples, their heritage, culture, educational institutions, and the striking physical beauty of the land itself. My wife and I were fortunate to be included with a group of about 10–12, including representatives of the IC. Our group was invited to take part in an early summer tour of Turkey.

Soon after our trip, I accepted an invitation to be a judge for The Istanbul Center’s Art Contest for middle and high school students. The contests (art and essay) reflect the Istanbul Center’s cultural and educational mission. The themes chosen for these contests are also central to the guiding philosophy of the IC in the belief that the Istanbul Center should strive to help build a world where non-violence, respect, understanding, friendship, cooperation, and love prevail. The themes chosen recently were: 2009–2010; “Who’s My Neighbor?” And 2010–2011; “Empathy: Walking in Other’s Shoes.” These themes challenge students to think about and express ideas that pushed students to reflect on their roles and responsibilities to the greater community of mankind.

The IC Art Contest (and visual arts education generally) promotes the development of our youth in significant ways. In recent research Winner and Hetland[1] found that there are important thinking skills or “Habits of Mind” developed by visual arts  engagement including: Persistence,  Expression, Making Clear Connections between schoolwork (or art contest themes) and the world outside the classroom, Envisioning, Exploring and Taking Constructive Risks, and Reflective Self-Evaluation. The Istanbul Center Art Contests are consistent in educational purpose with many and perhaps all of the above “Habits of Mind.”

Other reasons to applaud and support the Istanbul Center’s Art Contest include the development of Higher Order Thinking Skills in students engaged in the arts. If one looks closely at the kind of student behaviors going on in art making activities we find that they are often engaged in the highest levels of cognition (or thinking).

Art students including those who participate in the Istanbul Center’s Art Contest are involved with visual thinking. Visual thinking is unique in that when one sees a work of art or other visual field they are taking in that visual information at a time rather than over time or  sequentially as one does when reading, writing, computing, listening to music, etc.  The linking together of sequences in reading (words, sentences, paragraphs…) in some coherent way may result in meaning being conveyed to the reader or meaning being expressed by the author. The visual arts, however, are not limited to sequential learning. A pot, painting, or photograph may be perceived holistically or at a time rather than sequentially over time. A student viewing their artwork or any other artwork sees many multiple relationships at a time rather than over time. They can then go into the work perceptually and roam around from one part to another but the whole can also be seen at once. Visual thinking is a cognitive (thinking) attribute, advantageous in that it allows one to hold, in the mind, multiple relationships of the parts of an artistic composition (or any visual field); its colors, shapes, textures, content, etc. This ability to apprehend a visual field and hold many relationships at once, at a time, rather than sequentially over time may have been a factor in the kind of cognition required by Einstein to solve his famous theory. He perhaps thought at least to some degree as an artist thinks and sees. Einstein[2], in a letter to the French mathematician Hadamard early in the 20th century, explained that his theory was arrived at in part visually, and later translated into mathematics so other mathematicians could understand it.

It has been said that literacy and a literate citizenry is what education is about. Too often literacy is regarded as reading, writing, and numbers but when one asks “What is the process of literate behavior?” we find the concept of literacy expands. The process of literacy or behaving in a literate manner may be defined as the process of recovering meaning or expressing meaning. In literature one recovers meaning by reading something or expresses meaning by writing something. The process of literacy however is not limited to verbal and mathematical symbols. The process of literacy is to recover or express meaning in many forms of knowledge (including artistic).

The arts are an important ingredient in any child’s education. In any thoughtful review of educational purposes and programs the arts should be considered essential.

Congratulations to the Istanbul Center for initiating and maintaining their annual Art and Essay Contest. It helps to provide for the artistic development of the young people who have demonstrated their consideration for others through their artwork. For those students and teachers who have been fortunate to actually travel to Turkey and connect with the warm and welcoming people of that land there have been and will be opportunities to build those bridges of understanding between peoples.


1. Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S. & Sheridan, K. (2007). Studio thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education.  New York: Teacher’s College Press, Columbia University, p. 6.

2. Einstein, A. (1952). Letter to Jacques Hadamard. In The Creative Process, ed. B. Ghiselin (ed.) New York: Mentor Books, p. 43.