Prof Sophia Law finds art as perfect medium to inspire and help others
Famous Victorian writer Oscar Wilde may have said that "all art is quite useless," but Prof Sophia Law, Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Studies would beg to differ. For her, art is a language with the power to inspire, change lives, and even bring healing.
"In my view, art can be defined as a language written in images," she says. "It appeals to the senses, relies on visual thinking, and conveys a message independent of language, gender, age, culture, or educational background. Its intrinsic nature is to facilitate expression and promote communication and, therefore, it can contribute to individual well-being and to uniting a community."
Over the years, Prof Law's art facilitation programmes, funded by the Research Grants Council (RGC), have benefitted different target groups. These include students with special educational needs, elderly people with dementia, and people with disabilities. Thanks to a General Research Fund (GRF) grant from the RGC, she has been able to collaborate with the Social Welfare Department and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for children who have experienced trauma. "Looking ahead, I hope we can do more for these child victims because they often feel helpless," she says. "Our primary objective is to let them experience a sense of security and trust through the medium of art and creativity. This type of positive experience can then be internalised as self-understanding."
Art facilitation projects
Collaborated with social workers, art facilitators and art therapists, Prof Law's projects are specially designed for children who have suffered abuse, neglect or chronic stress. Creating images is an effective form of expression, helping them to unlock repressed emotions which are otherwise difficult to liberate.
"The process can prompt greater self-awareness and a better understanding of the challenges they are facing," Prof Law says.
Doing this, though, is not always easy. It can entail a change in conventional thinking and addressing long-held perceptions about art as something for the well-off or those with exceptional talents.
"To convince people that art is a language for everyone, I started to study theories hypotheses of art and anthropology," Prof Law says. She then went even further, looking into neurosciences, trauma studies, and cognitive psychology as it relates to visual art.
"Before any collaboration, I share my research on the intrinsic nature of art as a language with potential partners to make sure we are on the same page," she says. "Fortunately, through that process, my collaborators have been convinced that art offers more than they originally thought."
When teaching undergraduates, Prof Law has no strict rules, but believes classes and projects should be inspiring. For students, real interest, intrinsic motivation and curiosity are the key to learning. Therefore, she might introduce an assignment by asking where art comes from or how to define it. At first glance, the answers might seem simple, but on second thoughts, the complexities become evident.
"I refuse to be a 'Google teacher', just providing facts and a rigid concept of knowledge or what is expected," she says. "My role is to open windows, letting students know there are many different perspectives to learn, select and internalise. That should motivate them to be creative and pursue their own path."
After graduating, many students choose to become teachers and even art therapists. Prof Law hopes they continue to see the power of art as a language that allows people to express ideas and explore individuality.
"In art, there are no model answers, but millions of possibilities," she says. "Part of Lingnan’s mission is to inspire students through a holistic education which lets them make a positive impact in Hong Kong and for society as a whole. Art as well as art education are important for all of us."