Revista Adolescência e Saúde

Revista Oficial do Núcleo de Estudos da Saúde do Adolescente / UERJ

NESA Publicação oficial
ISSN: 2177-5281 (Online)

Vol. 14 nº 1 - Jan/Mar - 2017

Original Article Imprimir 

Páginas 7 a 13

Visual arts workshops for teens in social risk: a possibility for actions in health promotion

Talleres de artes visuales para adolescentes en situación de riesgo social: una posibilidad para acciones en promoción de salud

Oficinas de artes visuais para adolescentes em situação de risco social: uma possibilidade para ações em promoção de saúde

Autores: Berliete Bolzani1; Cléria Maria Lobo Bittar2

1. Master's Degree in Health Promotion. Lecturer, Visual Arts course, Franca University (UNIFRAN). Franca, São Paulo State, Brazil
2. Post-Doctorate degree, Valencia University (UV). Valencia, Spain . PhD in Social Work , Júlio de Mesquita Filho Paulista State University (UNESP). Franca, São Paulo State,. Lecturer, Graduate Studies Program in Health Promotion and the Psychology course, Franca University (UNIFRAN). Franca, São Paulo State, Brazil

Cléria Maria Lobo Bittar
Universidade de Franca
Av. Dr. Armando Sales de Oliveira, 201, Parque Universitário
Franca, SP, Brasil. CEP: 14404. 600

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How to cite this article

Keywords: Health promotion, art, adolescent, social vulnerability.
Palabra Clave: Promoción de salud, arte, adolescente, vulnerabilidad social.
Descritores: Promoção da saúde, arte, adolescente, vulnerabilidade social.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to develop visual arts workshops for the purpose of empowerment and development of personal skills in adolescents in situations of social vulnerability in the city of Franca (SP).
METHODS: Were held 60 visual arts workshops, once a week, with a group of 18 adolescents (11-15 years) of both sexes, assisted by an NGO.
RESULTS: The activities developed in the workshops allowed the teenagers greater assertiveness, improving self-awareness and ability to discuss various issues more clearly and identify their needs and limits. Initially there was a difficulty in exposing and working in a group, which required the researcher's action to enrich the bond of trust between the participants. It was settled in the group guided partnerships on trust, respect, attention and listening, bringing the group closer to the researcher and improving the interactions between participants, which increased the respect and availability to each other.
CONCLUSION: The participants showed more interest in personal care and self-appearance, and have modified their perception of each other. This suggests that the visual arts workshops improved social, emotional and cognitive skills, helping them to cope better with the everyday situations. It is a strategy in line with the principles of Health Promotion as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

OBJETIVO: El objetivo del presente estudio fue desarrollar talleres de artes visuales con la finalidad de adjudicación y desarrollo de habilidades personales en adolescentes en situación de vulnerabilidad social en el municipio de Franca (SP).
MÉTODOS: Fueron realizados 60 talleres de artes visuales, una vez por semana, con un grupo de 18 adolescentes (11 - 15 años) de ambos sexos, asistidos por una ONG.
RESULTADOS: Las actividades desarrolladas en los talleres posibilitaron a los adolescentes mayor apreciación, mejorando la autopercepción y la habilidad en discurrir sobre diversos asuntos con mayor claridad, sabiendo identificar sus necesidades y sus límites. Inicialmente había una dificultad en exponerse y trabajar en grupo, lo que demandó la actuación de la investigadora para que enriqueciera el vínculo de confianza entre ella, los participantes, y entre ellos. Se establecieron en el grupo alianzas pautadas en confianza, respeto, atención y recepción, aproximando a la investigadora al grupo y mejorando las interacciones entre los participantes, lo que aumentó el respeto y la disponibilidad para con el otro.
CONCLUSIÓN: Los participantes demostraron mayor interés en la atención consigo y con su apariencia personal, además de haber modificado su percepción con relación al otro. Esto sugiere que los talleres de artes visuales mejoraron las habilidades sociales, emocionales y cognitivas, auxiliándolos a manejar mejor las situaciones de lo cotidiano. Se trata de una estrategia que está en consonancia con los principios de la Promoción de Salud, según recomienda la Organización Mundial de Salud (OMS).

OBJETIVO: O objetivo do presente estudo foi desenvolver oficinas de artes visuais com a finalidade de empoderamento e desenvolvimento de habilidades pessoais em adolescentes em situação de vulnerabilidade social no município de Franca (SP).
MÉTODOS: Foram realizadas 60 oficinas de artes visuais, uma vez por semana, com um grupo de 18 adolescentes (11 - 15 anos) de ambos os sexos, assistidos por uma ONG.
RESULTADOS: As atividades desenvolvidas nas oficinas possibilitaram aos adolescentes maior assertividade, melhorando a autopercepção e a habilidade em discorrer sobre diversos assuntos com maior clareza, sabendo identificar suas necessidades e seus limites. Inicialmente havia uma dificuldade em se expor e trabalhar em grupo, o que demandou a atuação da pesquisadora para que enriquecesse o vínculo de confiança entre esta e os participantes, e entre eles. Estabeleceram-se no grupo parcerias pautadas em confiança, respeito, atenção e escuta, aproximando a pesquisadora do grupo e melhorando as interações entre os participantes, o que aumentou o respeito e a disponibilidade para com o outro.
CONCLUSÃO: Os participantes demonstraram maior interesse nos cuidados consigo e com sua aparência pessoal, além de terem modificado sua percepção em relação ao outro. Isto sugere que as oficinas de artes visuais melhoraram as habilidades sociais, emocionais e cognitivas, auxiliando-os a lidarem melhor com as situações do cotidiano. Trata-se de uma estratégia que está em consonância com os princípios da Promoção da Saúde conforme preconiza a Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS).


Health promotion may be defined as the process of building up the capacities of a community for controlling factors that play a determining role in health, with greater grassroots participation in decision processes, urging that health-determining factors should underpin health and equal opportunities through capacity-building and mediation among different interests1,2. Through this approach, responsibility shifts from healthcare centers and extends out into communities, homes, schools and NGOs, helping communities play pro-active roles in enhancing their own quality of life and health, with greater participation in controlling these processes2.

Thinking about adolescence as a time of sweeping physiological, psychic and emotional changes, together with the importance of social surroundings for adopting healthy habits, art is viewed as a possible health promotion strategy, paving the way for the resignification of social and cultural standards that shape teen personalities through relationships with their families, schools and other people3,4.

Understanding the vulnerability of adolescents refers to the contexts within which they live and the situations to which they are exposed. This means that such vulnerabilities must be taken into account for decisions on adolescent health promotion and education actions 5.

This age group is subject to high-risk situations such as homicides, accidents, suicides and complications deriving from HIV, in addition to the harm resulting from poverty, family unemployment and little or no schooling6, in parallel to constant influences from the media urging consumption. From a young age, they are bombarded with messages about sex and violence, together with drug and alcohol use and abuse7.

In this situation, it is believed that art may be viewed as a tool that could help build up social and personal skills, offering these youngsters the possibility of adopting attitudes that are more pro-active and reflective, striving to foster the development of their creative potential and triggering the changes needed to extend their world views and perceptions 8,9.

When painting a canvas, a sheet of paper or even a wall, these youngsters extend their relationship of the world spontaneously, acquiring sensitivity and the ability to deal with other types of expression10. Art offers an even balance between intellect and emotion, unconsciously prompting these youngsters to seek beyond themselves, helping them develop a sense of independence and freedom, in parallel to a democratic approach grounded on emotional and intellectual maturity: in fact, their own personalities in all their multiple aspects11.

Art ushers in the conditions needed for the development of personal and social skills, such as: easy communication, courtesy and the assertion of rights and citizenship, empathy, work and the expression of positive feelings, as well as self-control, expressing emotions, making friends, solving problems and enhancing academic skills12,13. All this underpins interactions that are more satisfactory in the many different social areas of life, triggering lifestyle changes and the adoption of healthier behaviors14. This tool consequently edges them towards lifestyles reflecting choices of healthier habits, aligned with the underlying principles of health promotion15.

The purpose of this project was to provide visual arts workshops for adolescents living in socially vulnerable situations, in order to empower them and foster the development of social skills, while adopting a more critical and reflective stance towards their own personal choices.


This qualitative study focuses on exploring the individual and collective meaning of the phenomena addressed16, through conducting Visual Arts workshops for a socially vulnerable group of adolescents at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the town of Franca, São Paulo State, designed to offset social exclusion through educational activities.

This study encompassed eighteen youngsters whose parents or guardians signed Deeds of Informed Consent, consisting of eight girls and ten boys between 11 and 15 years old who had been referred by the Social Welfare Reference Center (CRAS) and the Specialized Social Welfare and Child Welfare Council (CREAS).

This project was approved by the Research Ethics Committee for the institution at which the survey was conducted under Nº 634.883. Every step in this research project complied with Resolution Nº 466/12 issued by the National Health Council, establishing the ethical precepts for studies involving human beings.

In the course of this survey, observations were noted in a field diary related to the workshops and other activities, such as: meetings and informal chats with senior staff, as well as the technical and administrative personnel. All the information collected was used to conduct and enrich the analyses and discussions of this research project.

During the workshops, a portfolio of the activities was prepared, with photographs of the participants producing art, which was made available to the entire group. Records were constructed through blending different views: those of the researcher, the teens themselves and the trainees who were observing the workshop process. In order to ensure fidelity to their actual comments, they were transcribed exactly as voiced.

One of the proposals was to offer the participants the chance to understand the three stages of the artistic process through a triangular methodology17: production (creation), appreciation (fruition) and contextualization (reflection). Attempts were made to provide a venue where they could talk about their dreams, their culture and their reality, in their own individual ways of expressing themselves, as well as through the arts.

The art workshops were run by the researcher herself, assisted by trainee students from the Visual Arts course at Franca University. Each workshop focused on a motivating issue, with steeper learning curves and sharper gazes at art, techniques, materials and their relationships with their surroundings.


At the beginning, participation was not easy as, in addition to the brash and challenging attitudes of these youngsters, with little interest in performing the activities, as they were unhappy about the presence of the trainees who accompanied the researcher during the workshop.

"(...) I don´t like this teacher, he is a real drag " (P1, 11 years old, Girl.)

"(...) He is not helping me, all he does is scold me" (P15, 12 years old, Girl.)

"(...) I´m not going to do anything if he comes here " (P15, 12 years old, Girl.)

Aggressiveness among the participants was apparent in their gestures, expressions and the way they handled the art materials.

[Researcher: What are you doing?]

- "None of your business!" (P18, 13 years old, Boy)

- "What crap, you whale" (P2, 12 years old, Boy) [speaking to another participant]

[Researcher: Who took the material out of its place?]

- "Not me" (P2, 12 years old, Boy)

- "It was your grandma" (P10, 12 years old, Boy) [in an ironic tone]

During the first few workshops, the participants were shy and barely spoke about the work. So a suggestion was made that they should present a simple description of their progress and their production at the end of each activity, explaining what was done and the reasons for their choices. The first workshop held on the NGO premises focused on drawing self-portraits, referenced to self-portraits by Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Modigliani.

A lack of knowledge about art, together with the absence of reading and cultural habits (visiting museums, theaters, etc.), indicated the need to explain basic concepts of art. However, the curiosity and eagerness of the group to learn allowed them to assimilate important aspects of contemporary art quickly and easily, without alterations to their behavior.

"I only look at a picture if it´s pretty, otherwise I am not interested" (P10, 12 years old, Boy)

"Goodness, now when I see a work of art, or when there is something at school, or when we go out with the psychologist, I know that I must stop to look and understand, to see whether I like it or not" (P16, 11 years old, Boy)

As a result, these youngsters became aware of their own learning curves (re)signifying them and exploring the reasons that hamper or help achieving their planned goals. Better assimilation of artistic concepts was noted from the collage workshop onwards.

"Things used to happen at school or in the square, and I didn´t even pay attention, I understood nothing" (P8, 12 years old, Boy

"Now when I see a work of art, I know that I must stop to look at it, to see whether I like it or not" (P16, 11 years old, Boy)

Some comments also reflect aspects of the contexts within which these youngsters live, hinting at the difficulties and violence surrounding them.

"(...) Today, I almost didn´t come, my mother had no money to give me" (P1, 11 years old, Girl)

"(...) Today I slept until noon, showered and came here. I'm suspended" (P7, 12 years old, Boy)

Appreciation of their output in a large area with no criticisms or judgements helped buttress their self-esteem. These youngsters were able to introduce elements from their daily lives and show these aspects to others, strengthening personal and inter-personal relationships. As a language that sharpens the senses, art conveys meanings that cannot be expressed through any other type of language, such as discourse and science18.

In addition to improved techniques, changes in their vocabularies were also noted, with less slang and swearing, as well as the use of symbols glorifying drug use and violence. The meetings became more productive and cheerful, encouraging them to socialize and fostering pleasure in art. There was mutual curiosity about the works produced, exchanging jokes, feelings, sensations and questions, expressed through phrases such as:

"(...) Goodness, how did you manage to do the mouth" (P1, 12 years old, Girl.)

"(...) I can´t get the nose" (P15, 11 years old, Boy)

"(...) Goodness, look at the pornography you did!" (P12, 12 years old, Girl.)

"(...) I´m going to do my drawing out of my own head" (P8, 12 years old, Boy) [explaining that he is going to create his own drawing, rather than just copying.]

As their knowledge progressed about the use of the materials through to construction of their designs, it became apparent that many personal references could be found in their output. During the workshops, efforts focused on differences in the conceptualization of esthetic taste, introducing a significant number of pictures with different supports and techniques for analysis and reflection. This managed to break through the cordon of social isolation around these youngsters, ushering them into the world and spurring their eagerness for life, work and creation, reinventing their daily lives.

"(...) We could display the work someplace, we could show our work, then our schoolmates would come to see us" (P9, 13 years old, Boy)

"(...) I want to participate in the exhibition with a lot of works" (P18, 13 years old, Boy)

"(...) When are we going there to the college again? It´s really good doing stuff there" (P13, 14 years old, Girl.)

"(...) I like to do my work" (P15, 11 years old, Boy)

Although some contributions are associated with artistic activities, the most strongly-stressed aspects were those that provided socio-affective benefits.

"(...) I like to come here, I like to draw. It´s peaceful coming here, I didn´t even know that I could draw" (P 5, 12 years old, Girl.)

"(...) I showed my drawing to my mom, she thought it was lovely, she said I have talent" (P7, 12 years old, Boy)

"(...) I am even doing better in school - we also have art classes there and now I know more than the others, this is cool!" (P17, 15 years old, Boy)

The experience of attending the workshops becomes positive when one of its functions is also to intervene in the field of citizenship, offering possibilities of transforming daily reality19. While painting the mural, there was an argument with a neighbor of the NGO, who complained about it as the wall marked the boundary with her home. The participants challenged her, asking why she was complaining, as the wall is also part of the boundaries of the NGO.

They build up a shared reality that grew steadily firmer through interactions among the participants. Socio-educational actions must influence the lives of teenagers, fostering the construction of life projects, social belonging and respect for differences, allowing them to adopt the role of a true player in their social and community dynamics.

Thinking about adolescent health implies reviewing education practices, among other proposals addressing their needs, almost always neglected by institutions and society in general, particularly for youngsters from lower-income families. Little is asked about their needs, their experiences and the values to be spotlighted during their education, losing the ability to enter into dialogues with them20.

The workshops were designed in a manner that differs from formal art education provided in schools and/or art courses. The intention was not to offer an alternative model, but rather to supplement school activities while striving to build up partnerships, contributing to the formation of citizens1.


Knowledge was built up during the workshops, together with relationships constructed through trial and error, which was possible only due to the safe environment that underpinned the appearance of links and exchanges. They talked about everything, their lives, their families, their pasts, their dreams. These workshops were really meetings.

The adoption of educational practices based on dialogue and links to freedom that are solidly rooted in trust and respect is a way of encouraging active participation among adolescents, turning them into protagonists who are jointly responsible for their own health and enhancing the quality of their lives. This allows the individual to exist within the collective, perceiving personal and group contradictions while seeking new paths.

The participants began to view the art workshops as places with multiple purposes, realizing that they could develop specific skills in certain fields of art and adopting socially acceptable behaviors. They discovered new possibilities for expressing the ways that they feel, want and act through the production of their works. They began to address each other in friendlier ways, with greetings, sharing, exchanging and caring for the materials, while increasingly eager to participate.

This research project strove to demonstrate the feasibility of art as a tool for fostering the development of social skills and empowerment, thus providing leverage for the individual and social transformation of adolescents. It is hoped that this experiment will influence other studies exploring and proposing new possibilities for art and education in public policies, boosting the self-esteem of these young participants while enhancing their psycho-social skills and inter-personal respect, promoting health and stimulating their development at the personal and social levels as citizens.

These workshops offered experiences in togetherness that, when shared, provided a personal and group learning experience that extended self-knowledge while fostering reflection and fine-tuning the skills needed to solve everyday problems, developing critical awareness, listening and understanding others as different beings, while taking decisions in aware and critical ways. Furthermore, it also increased their motivation and interest in the activities, with more active discussions and tighter group integration.

It helped these adolescents talk about themselves and their feelings, their beliefs and attitudes. The affective, cognitive and social aspects that influence human behavior were addressed through this intervention, which constitutes an educational tool for promoting health.


This paper is based on a research project conducted as part of a Master´s Degree in Health Promotion, with the thesis defended by the main author of this study, under the tutorship of the second author.


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