According to Joan Giroux, Associate Professor, Art+Design, “Art and making art are about finding a purpose beyond oneself, and this is the thing that I hope to help my students to find. People can and must engage in social action.”
Written by Michal Percival
Photography by Jacob Boll
Columbia College challenges its students to create change, and at least one professor can show you how. According to Joan Giroux, Associate Professor, Art+Design, “Art and making art are about finding a purpose beyond oneself, and this is the thing that I hope to help my students to find. People can and must engage in social action.”
Activism is a way of life for Joan. Growing up in Syracuse, New York, she recounts time spent handing out anti-Viet Nam War flyers with her fiercely civic-minded parents as “some of the best childhood days, when people joined together in a common cause and out of the conviction that something mattered.” Another important influence in Joan’s life has been studying, teaching, exhibiting, and collaborating abroad in such far-flung places as Berlin, Japan, Israel, and South Korea. As an artist, Joan creates handmade objects, digital photomontage, kinetic sculpture, and performance that “address the concepts of mobility, potential, boundaries, and change,” and her interests include environmental sustainability, healing, linguistics, and games (especially those that everybody wins).
During J-Session, Joan and Ames Hawkins, Associate Professor, English Department and Faculty in Cultural Studies, co-teach Art and Activism Studio Project, a unique service-learning course that ties together artistic production and social engagement. But she never stops showing students how to engage in thinking that explores diversity and understanding in and outside of the classroom. For example, in Fundamentals of 3D Design, Joan assigns the task of creating artwork that represents the analogies between two disparate objects. Once, a student created a corset to reflect the trappings of a cricket cage, a profoundly political parallel.
With all of her activities—making art, teaching, and working with colleagues in Art+Design, First-Year Seminar, the Center for Teaching Excellence, Critical Encounters, and CCFO committees—Joan is a highly visible presence at Columbia. Authentically compassionate, intellectual, and energetic, she demonstrates how artists can inspire their community to find the one trait that she believes that everyone possesses: a “capacity for goodness.” Right on.