Rebel Agents of Transformation: Altered art in Alternative Education Programs

by Aislinn Cornett

This thesis explores the question: what is the value and function of creating altered art objects in an alternative education program with at-risk adolescents? The researcher used the qualitative research methods of arts based research and hermeneutic phenomenology to present data collected over a four week art therapy group with at-risk adolescents in an alternative education program (AEP). This four week altered art group with at-risk adolescents illustrates a successful vignette of art therapy in an AEP by showcasing the engagement and creativity that emerged through the directive of altered art. The researcher’s response art and poetry functioned to distill the essence of the participants’ artwork, art making process and the significance of the group work. The essence reveals the value and function of the spontaneous, experimental and creative environment pf the art as therapy approach, particularly during this stage of adolescent identity formation. Some of the key aspects that emerged from the research were: freedom of choice for deepening a sense of self and the symbolic structure of the altered art in relationship to adolescent development, in particular “at-risk” adolescents. This included themes of inside/outside; open/closed; contained and uncontained. The unique function of making altered artwork also gave participants the opportunity to creatively and symbolically explore themes of transformation and life as a constructed narrative. Through the use of arts based research, the researcher has clearly demonstrated the value of art therapy and the use of altered art in alternative educational programs for at-risk adolescents.